Our Series Sponsor

This case study series was made possible by the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab. Their in-house startup promotes financial inclusion and provides access to capital for early-stage technology and technology-enabled companies led by women and multicultural entrepreneurs. Applications to join their next accelerator cohort are open through September 16 and are accessible here.

Program leaders at Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Lab are still taking questions and lending support to Barbara Jones. Jones launched Lillii RNB in 2013 to assist brands with software-assisted loss mitigation. The Atlanta-based company got a lifeline by participating in Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab this past spring, and although the program ended in July, Jones says it’s a gift that’s kept on giving.

Jones had been through many pitch competitions and even completed several accelerators with mixed results, but this opportunity presented something different. Jones was encouraged to apply for the MCIL program from a Rise of the Rest pitch competition winner.

“I had already participated in about 10 other incubators, accelerator-type programs so I was tired of going through the programs,” Jones told The Plug. “They were all good but it was a lot of time for what I got out of them.”

Ultimately, the number of past participants who were able to get follow-on investment convinced Jones to join. So far, the 43 companies that have participated in MCIL have gone on to raise more than $80 million in venture backing.

“Morgan Stanley was the first money in for me. I was intimidated pitching to investors, but in the program, when I got in front of investors to pitch my confidence level went from zero to 100,” Jones said.

This week, the MCIL program welcomed its sixth cohort of women and diverse entrepreneurs.

Aside from money and newfound confidence, Jones’ business has benefited tremendously from its network. Through participation in the accelerator, Jones had access to experts and their networks of high-ranking executives.

Carla Harris who co-leads the program is on the board of Walmart and offerer this connection to Jones. Being backed by a legacy financial organization has also had its perks.

“Just telling people that we had investment from Morgan Stanley opened a lot of doors for us,” Jones said.

Filling the network gap that exists for many Black founders and having a big-name backer helped other new investors be less squeamish to write Jones a check. Morgan Stanley invested $250,000 into Lillii RNB and Jones has gone on to raise another $750,000 from investors in a few short months.

Harris, Morgan Stanley’s vice chairman, global wealth management, and co-head of the MCIL, said they are catering to founders like Jones: Black and women-led companies to lead to better outcomes.

“By specifically catering to high-growth multicultural and women entrepreneurs, the Multicultural Innovation Lab presents a unique opportunity for disruptive startups to increase their visibility, accelerate their business and achieve success,” Harris said in a statement.

Securing $1 million in venture capital is a milestone for Black founders in an inequitable tech ecosystem where Black founders still receive 1.2 percent of invested venture capital in the U.S., the MCIL functions in part to close the gap.

Closing the funding gap and capitalizing a business is the crux of Black businesses surviving versus thriving, Jones said.

“Women, especially Black women, are so used to making a dollar stretch. We can do so much with so little, but what that does is stunt our businesses from growing,” she said.  

“We need to capitalize our businesses, this program taught me that there are people, that if you can tell them what you’re building, give them that story, that dream and the track where it will go, people will believe in you and put their money where their mouth is.”

Our Series Sponsor

This story is made possible by the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab. Their in-house startup promotes financial inclusion and provides access to capital for early-stage technology and technology-enabled companies led by women and multicultural entrepreneurs. Applications to join their next accelerator cohort are open through September 16 and are accessible here.