Series Sponsor: Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab 

This case study series was made possible by the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab. Their in-house startup accelerator 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.

The Plug spoke with Dennis Cail, a participant in Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab and the co-founder and CEO of Zirtue, a peer-to-peer lending platform based in Dallas, Texas. The company’s mission is to drive financial inclusion, as the world’s first relationship-based lending program. 

As a Black entrepreneur, Cail recognized the unique opportunity the Morgan Stanley MCIL presented and made sure Zirtue seized what was in front of them. Zirtue simplifies loans between friends and family. Borrowers can also pay creditors directly using borrowed funds through Zirtue. 

The company’s goal is to help people, no matter their level of income, without having to pay high interest on payday loans or to a predatory lender. They also provide a more transparent way of lending money to those who want to help and provide opportunities for creditors who want to create a better customer payment experience. Before participating in the accelerator, Cail and his 11-person team raised a $4 million seed funding to fuel their growth. Here is how he was able to build upon a great foundation through the MCIL. 

MS: How did you learn about the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab? 

Dennis: I learned about the Lab through networking amongst other accelerator programs. Google and Goodie Nation mentioned MCIL, and I also received emails about it. We didn’t have any expectations but thought it was an awesome opportunity, so we made sure we applied to participate. 

MS: What compelled you to apply to the program? 

Dennis: It’s Morgan Stanley. As a Black founder, you don’t get that access every day. MCIL helps women and founders of color become successful. This would allow us access to resources to help run a better business. It would help us identify core KPIs and introduce us to customers or clients who would help grow our business and revenue. Morgan Stanley is a good lifetime partner. They have the resources to help us scale our business. 

MS: How did your experience in the program help you in your business? 

Dennis: It made me a better entrepreneur and a better CEO. It also produced more effective team members. It was not just about founders. The entire team was engaged. It caused us to ask, how do we make this a better, bigger company, and how can Morgan Stanley help?

MS: What surprised you about the Lab?

Dennis: I was surprised about the level of leadership Morgan Stanley provided. We were able to engage in round tables with the CEO and leadership team as well as one on ones. I was surprised about the level of access we had to seasoned, senior employees who were involved.

MS: What were some of the most important takeaways from your experience in the MCIL?

Dennis: Carla Harris provided so much wisdom. The thing that resonated with me most was when she said, ‘show up and be your authentic self. Have a voice. Play your game – not someone else’s.’ So, I make sure whenever I show up, I am being my authentic self because that is how people connect. 

MS: What have been your greatest accomplishments or milestones reached during or since the program? 

Dennis: We have really made some key hires and filled out our leadership team. Our VP of engineering hit the ground running and helped scale our product. Our VP of growth and partnership came from a really well-known company. We have attracted top talent because of our relationship with the MCIL program and Morgan Stanley.

MS: What advice would you give to women and multicultural entrepreneurs starting out on their journey?

Dennis: I know people get discouraged, but it is important to understand life is not about a series of big jumps, but about 1,000 steps in the right direction. People tend to get caught up in social media and then ask themselves why they aren’t as far as this other person. My advice is to focus on the work, not the big jump—put the work in.

 

Series Sponsor: Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab

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.