A Banner Year for Female Founders Doesn't Come Without its Caveats

Sarah HallamFuture of Work

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Female startup founders are seeing a big increase in funding after a particularly bleak drop in 2020.

Venture capital to women-founded startup teams passed $40 billion in the first three quarters of 2021, according to data from Pitchbook. This beats 2019’s record of $23.7 billion.

It’s also a huge swing in the opposite direction from last year’s funding trends. Despite being a record-breaking year for VC funding into startups, women-led teams only saw 2.3% of it.

It’s not certain what changed, but it doesn’t hurt that more women are starting to write the checks. The percentage of women LPs at VC firms grew from 12% in 2019 to 15.4% by September 2021.

More high-profile exits by female founders

By the end of Q3 in 2021, female-founded companies recorded $59 billion in high-profile exits.

Female founders also outperformed the market as a whole in exits.

In 2020, female-founded companies exited for a combined $24.1 billion, 32% higher than 2019’s level. The overall market increased by 8%.

In 2021 the combined number for female-founded exits grew to $58.8 billion—143.6% higher than 2020. The overall market Market is 101.5%)

On top of exits, the greatest number of women-led startups hit unicorn status in 2021.

But the gap in valuations is growing

For as much progress women-founded startups made in fundraising and exiting, valuations for women continue to trail the rest of the market, now at a faster pace.

The median late-stage private valuation was $70 million for US startups in 2020 and only $59 million for female-founded ones. In 2021, the median for the overall market grew to a staggering $120 million, while for female-founded startups, the median grew to $100 million.

While valuations did significantly increase for female-founded companies, the gap between women and the rest of the market more than doubled. This also happened in the early-stage market, where female-founded startups trail the rest of the market by $6 million.

This banner year for women-founded startups is definitely a cause for celebration, but also one for cautious optimism.

The statistics for more women LPs and more women-founded unicorn companies indicates that a shift in funding has occurred, but zoom out and see that women-founded startups only grabbed 18% of the $239 billion that VC firms poured into startups overall through September.

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