Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Alice Vilma, managing director and co-head of the Multicultural Innovation Lab at Morgan Stanley
I spoke with Alice Vilma, managing director and co-head of the Multicultural Innovation Lab at Morgan Stanley.
Alice initially started at Morgan Stanley in investment banking and capital markets and spent some time on the investing side as well. She then joined the multicultural client strategy group, working closely with clients and also establishing Morgan Stanley’s brand as a thought leader in commercially engaging with the multicultural business community.
Particularly after discovering and realizing the extent of inequity in startup funding, Alice wanted to deepen her connection within the community, elevating more diverse leaders to executive positions and empowering more diverse founders to access the capital markets. So, she joined the Multicultural Client Strategy Group as co-head of the Multicultural Innovation Lab. The group is focused on closing the early stage funding gap for, highlighting the work of, and establishing long term relationships with diverse founders and teams to eventually also support them in their IPOs or company sales.
Recently, the Multicultural Client Strategy Group published an incredible report on the VC progress toward racial equality.
Alice shared more on supporting founders, diversifying talent pipelines, ecosystem accountability and impact, her experiences at Harvard, and her advice for her younger self.
On supporting founders, Alice notes her framework of supporting through capital, content, and connections with the Multicultural Innovation Lab. They invest $250K into each startup in the program, provide content on a wide range of topics from business operations to sales to financial planning to talent and more, and make introductions to potential customers and investors. They take this holistic approach to helping businesses accelerate themselves and be ready to capitalize on opportunities after the program. Interestingly, the capital, while valuable, is the least important of the 3 areas of support. Founders primarily benefit from the know-how and connections they gain through the program and are better able to present their story around market opportunity to attract more customers, investors, and hires in the long run.
On diversifying talent pipelines, Alice underscores the importance of being intentional and keeping that intentionality at the forefront of your thesis and decision making. Measure everything: consistently track the diversity of your portfolio companies and their leadership teams. Make sure you are meeting a diverse set of companies. To this end, work with investors with multicultural themes and programs like the Multicultural Innovation Lab that are focused on diverse founders in a wide range of sectors in the earliest stages. Ensure internally that your partnership team is diverse as well to better identify, evaluate, and partner with diverse founder talent.
On ecosystem accountability and impact, Alice highlights the need to gather more data points on the performance of diverse founders. Kapor Capital recently published an impact report, finding that diverse teams and investing in diverse entrepreneurs leads to better fund returns. Diverse founders often receive less funding and, as a result, have to learn to work more efficiently. They stretch their capital further and better optimize their burn, ultimately leading to better operational efficiency and company performance outcomes. With more reports like these created and shared, more investors will see the value of investing in diverse founders, and more funding will move into closing the funding gap.
Additionally, regardless of founder background, it is also crucial to track funding flows to diverse markets, specifically to launching startups that are focused on underserved markets. Not only is the founder funding side important to track but the customer and job creation impact is as well.
On her experience at Harvard Business School, Alice appreciated learning soft skills around innovation and entrepreneurship and learning more about intentional organization design as an empathetic and inclusive leader in a dynamic world. She felt that HBS empowered her to identify her own passions and take a leadership stand on crucial issues even when her opinion was unpopular or in the minority.
On advice for her younger self, Alice would encourage herself and others to look for and engage in opportunities where they can have influence in shaping the team, company, and industry and not just plug into an existing workflow. While these opportunities are frequently less defined and initially less in vogue, they are the platforms through which you can find the most fulfillment and create the most impact.