SEATTLE – Investments in female-founded startups are higher than ever.
Women-led businesses, which make up just 20% of venture-capital backed companies, took in $46.3 billion in capital last year, according to the latest data from PitchBook. That’s more than twice the $22 billion female entrepreneurs got the year before and more than 15 times the $3 billion awarded them in 2010.
Despite the positive trend, women remain grossly underrepresented, not only as VC-backed entrepreneurs but as venture capitalists themselves.
While women VCs are most likely to invest in female founders, men still dominate the VC world.
“[A majority] of venture capital firms don’t have a single female partner at the table,” said Pam Kostka, CEO of All Raise, a nonprofit that provides guidance and access to professional networks for female founders and funders. Among individual venture capitalists, 88% are men.
Male VCs traditionally have had a bias toward businesses run by men that provide products and services men use and understand, said Adley Bowden, PitchBook’s vice president of Research and Analysis. It’s also a familiar bet to them because men have a longer track record of launching successful startups.
Promising signs of progress
But several things have been happening that could start to level the playing field.
There is a growing awareness of men’s investment bias and increased training at venture capital firms to overcome it, Bowden noted. There’s also increased understanding that bringing women to the table broadens the awareness of promising ventures — especially those that cater to female customers.
There also are now a number of successful women-led businesses that investors can point to as reasons why investing in women founders makes good financial sense. Just this year alone, several female-founded startups achieved “unicorn” status, with valuations topping $1 billion, including Rent the Runway, The Real Real, Glossier and Away.
What’s more, female-founded startups that “exit” and pay back their investors — either by going public or by being acquired — do so within 6 years on average, well below the overall average of 7.4 years, according to PitchBook.
“If you look at the VC industry as one of pattern recognition, there are now patterns to follow,” Kostka said.
Women VCs also are making a splash. Alexa von Tobel, founder of the online financial planning platform LearnVest, and former US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, recently co-founded Inspired Capital. They have raised an initial $200 million to invest in early-stage startups, making it one of the larger VC firms.
While not restricted to female-founded companies, one of Inspired Capital’s initial investments was in Chief, a female-founded private network supporting women executives who are in or are on track to be in the C-suite.
Ana Duggal, a venture capitalist who founded the Female Founders Fund five years ago, said that last year 18 women-led startups in New York secured Series A funding, which helps a startup invest in growth and hire a team. Back in 2013, there was just one.
And investment banks are also taking steps to close the funding gap for women. Goldman Sachs, for instance, has committed $500 million to invest in and support women-led companies. Morgan Stanley has created its own accelerator program to help women and multicultural founders.
Going forward, sufficiently supporting women entrepreneurs will require more than providing them with the typical entrepreneur playbook since there is still bias built into the system, said Ari Horie, CEO of Women’s Startup Lab, an accelerator that connects female founders in Silicon Valley with investors. “The road is still steeper and rockier for them than it is for men.”
Even with the positive momentum of the past two years, the road to a fair shake for women founders and funders in the VC world is still very long.
“We’re at Mile 1, but the pace is picking up,” Kostka said.