27 November, 2021

HULT Private Capital Insights on the Female Founders Funding Gap

Data shows that female-founded companies are raising venture capital at markedly higher levels than at any time in the last ten years. Could it be that long-running efforts to increase women’s visibility amongst entrepreneurs are at last bearing fruit?

Despite positive suggestions from the raw numbers, placing data on female founders into the wider context of booming venture capital investment tempers the excitement it might otherwise invite. Looking at the US market in 2021, start-ups with all-male founders scooped 75 % of venture capital deals where founders’ genders are known, compared to the mere 6 % secured by all-female founders and 19 % by mixed teams.

There is no doubt that this is progress. The all-male founder share has declined from 2011, when it was 85 %, and all-female has increased by 2 %. Nevertheless, whilst this progress might be steady, it is slow, and mixed teams are rising to prominence considerably faster than all-female. 

The discrepancy in success between mixed-team and all-female start-ups is also notable in terms of total and average deal value. Male founders took 83 % of deal dollars in 2021, comparable to recent years. Meanwhile, the growth in average and total deal value enjoyed by mixed teams far surpasses that of all-female founders. In fact, this year shows the largest difference in fundraising yet. Indeed, companies with only female founders raised, on average, late-stage rounds that were half the size of deals done by mixed teams so far this year.

So, what is going on? Elizabeth Edwards, founder and managing partner of female-owned venture capital firm H Venture Partners, explains that female-founded companies have difficulty attracting funding when just a small percentage of venture capital dollars are in the hands of female VCs. 

Here too, though, change may be coming, albeit slowly. Since 2018, VC firms with at least one female decision-maker have raised over $40 billion every year, and 2021 is looking likely to set a new record. 

For now, the most positive news for female founders comes from the healthcare sector. Investment in female-founded or female-co-founded healthcare companies comprised more than 43 % of dollars raised this year so far, a figure that compares impressively to less than 25 % in 2011. 

The more gender-balanced supply of trained experts in the life sciences and biotech sector is reflected amongst those medical practitioners becoming entrepreneurs, giving hope to those looking forward to increased female representation that, though change may be slow, it will be profitable when it comes.

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Debora Franks

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