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Morgan Stanley Starts New Fund to Build More Diverse Businesses

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Morgan Stanley’s investment division started a new fund to invest in early-stage companies with diverse founders, winning initial backing from Microsoft Corp., Walmart Inc. and Hearst Corp. for the venture.

“Morgan Stanley is not only leveraging our capital, but growing it into a more established fund that will help propel the efforts and increase the pipeline of multicultural and women entrepreneurs,” said Alice Vilma, co-portfolio manager of the new Next Level Fund. “We as well as other institutions are finding ways to level the playing field.”

Corporations have been seeking ways to deploy funds toward environmental, social and governance investments as social issues ratchet up the agenda for Wall Street and its clients. Many have found it challenging to figure out how to invest in small firms that are run by women or minorities, and have tasked their bankers to help scout those opportunities.

SoftBank Group created a $100 million venture fund last year to boost companies run by Black, Latinx and Native American founders who are “largely left out of the VC ecosystem,” according to its website. Such exclusion is bad for both society and business, it said.

The Next Level Fund, part of Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s private credit and equity platform, will get started with $50 million, an appropriate size as the platform seeks to deploy capital to firms that require investments of less than $1 million each, Vilma said.

“This is certainly not a one-and-done fund,” she said. “We can see very quickly growing sizes of funds to $100 million, $200 million and beyond as we begin to prove out the hypothesis.”

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