Morgan Stanley bets big on Indian startups with partnerships


Morgan Stanley has successfully engaged with tech startups for the last 18 years, largely in the US and now wants to repeat this in Asia with its base in Bengaluru.

Morgan Stanley, the global financial services powerhouse has begun its engagement with the startup ecosystem in India. The key platform of Morgan Stanley which connects with the startups in the United States called the CTO Innovation Summit was held for the first time for Asia in Bengaluru recently. Bobby Gilja, MD and CIO for Corporate and Funding Technology, and Chakra Mantena, MD and Head of Technology India of Morgan Stanley, say they seek long-term partnerships with startups in India with their technology solutions and also help these young firms to break into large enterprise customers in an interview with YourStory.

YS: How does Morgan Stanley connect with startups?

Bobby Gilja (BG): Our engagement with startups has been through the annual CTO Innovation Summit, which has been running for almost 18 years in San Francisco, California. In addition, we have started organising a FinTech Summit event in New York for the last three years. We organised this event in Asia for the first time in Bengaluru. Over the past 18 years, we have seen close to 750 companies through the CTO Innovation Summit in San Francisco. Last year, we had 100 companies at our CTO summit in California. We have organised these summits around five technology themes. We do a selection of these startups, which starts with a long list but whittle it down. The key thing here is that we bring top technologists from our side as well as some business leaders to connect with startups to not only try to understand what they have but actually help them break into firms like Morgan Stanley from an enterprise angle.

Chakra Mantena (CM): Morgan Stanley Global’s in-house centre started operations in India 15 years ago and has been in Bengaluru for four years. At the first event, we selected 120 startups and filtered it to the final list of 16. The technology themes we are looking at, are: AI, ML, automation, data & analytics, fintech and infrastructure. We evaluated their products on the basis of maturity, innovation and their ability to connect with enterprises while being relevant to us.

Bengaluru and India has a thriving startup ecosystem and we are going to have follow up conversations with a few startups to look at how we could engage with them. Typically, it starts with a proof-of-concept.

One of the gaps we noticed in the startup ecosystem is that it needs more corporate and enterprise engagement. Through our platform, startups could learn what an enterprise like Morgan Stanley looks for. We received feedback from startups who said it was an enriching experience as they do not get to understand the requirement of clients. For the startups that were selected, there is going to be a longer engagement with them.

Bobby Gilja (left), MD and CIO for Corporate and Funding Technology and Chakra Mantena, MD and Head of Technology India, of Morgan Stanley

YS: What is the process adopted by Morgan Stanley while engaging with startups?

BG: One of the key words I would like to use here is partnership. We think of it as us learning what startups are doing, and they learning about what we are. Through the proof-of-concept (PoC), we help them think through and enhance the solution they may have. At the end of day, we are looking for talent, ideas, whether it comes from internally or from startups.

YS: Is it a long-term engagement?

BG: There are a few that had come to our summit, which turned into PoCs, product production, and multiple lifecycles. We help them develop enterprise capability and also the ability to sell it to other companies.

YS: What attributes do you look for in startups?

BG: Through the selection process itself, we focus on our attention on the areas we are interested. The attributes we look for is soundness of idea, enterprise readiness and ability to be customer focused.

YS: Is Morgan Stanley’s startup engagement similar to accelerator programmes of other companies?

BG: We are slightly different. Accelerator programmes fundamentally give startups the infrastructure to develop an idea but we work more as a partnership to help them potentially break into an enterprise.

CM: We are looking at startups that are already at a certain level of maturity. They have a product which is interesting and applicable to us. We have a large platform and look at a product which fits into our business. We offer our technical expertise to build a PoC, help it scale so that it can deployed in an enterprise.

YS: Is the timing right for Morgan Stanley to make its presence in the Indian startup ecosystem?

BG: There were three precipitous things. One is maturity of our office in Bengaluru and the themes. There was a bit of hype phase the startups went through but there is more maturity now. So timing was kind of right.

CM: Most of the India startups were B2C companies or focused on the domestic business. What we need is infrastructure, tools, software solution that can help us in the financial markets across the world. Earlier, we felt there are not many of them we thought that could help us with what we do. We have been monitoring the ecosystem for some time now. We had great success with the quality and number of startups with the CTO Innovation Summit in Bengaluru.

YS: How would describe your engagement with Indian startups?

CM: A majority of them had a deep understanding of the domain and the technologies they were trying to leverage was quite impressive. There was a good overlap between the quality of the startups here and what we saw in Silicon Valley in terms of skillsets, presentations, and the fantastic energy.



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