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VCs Backed a Record Number of Female-Founded Unicorns and Late-Stage Deals in 2021, Data Shows
Women founders once again received around 2% of all funds that went toward venture-backed startups, but investors funded more female-founded unicorns and digital health startups than before.
Credit: FG Trade for Getty Images
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10 minute read

Companies founded solely by women in 2021 received only 2.2% of all venture capital funding that went to startups, according to Pitchbook data.

It’s a stubborn number that just won’t seem to rise, despite a growing number of women serving in deal-making positions and the creation of more women-led venture funds.

But there are still many victories for female founders to celebrate. For starters, late-stage investment deals brought in more cash for female founders than ever previously recorded. And out of 595 new unicorn startups last year, 83 of them were founded by women — a 3% increase from 2020.

The most prosperous industry for female founders was health tech startups, giving women an inherent advantage as they build companies in healthcare categories such as chronic disease, women’s health and addiction. This is because women control more than $2 trillion of spend annually as the primary decision-makers in healthcare choices for themselves or for their families.

"I believe that women should certainly play a central role in designing healthcare solutions for other women," says Maya Said, founder and CEO of the AI medical startup Outcomes4me. "But as a woman my hope is that my own experience–which led to me founding the company–will ultimately improve health outcomes for all people."

Some of the fastest-growing digital health companies of last year include:

LogoOrgFounderSubindustryLatest Funding RoundValuation
23andMe23andMeAnne Wojcicki Genetics$250M$3.6B
spring healthSpring HealthApril Koh Mental Health$190M$1.9B
Modern HealthModern HealthAlyson WatsonMental Health$74M$1.2B
maven clinicMaven ClinicKatherine RyderTelehealth$110M$1B

VC deals

3,871 venture capital funded deals for female-founded startups raised $54.6 billion in funding, according to Pitchbook.

This compares to 2020’s $22.6 billion across 2,641 deals, a 146% year-over-year increase.

To put this in perspective, nearly a decade ago, only $6.8 billion was invested across 1,300 deals. This data comes from the Female Founders Fund, which started tracking VC deals to women founders yearly in 2013.

Unicorns

A record 595 unicorns (startups valued at over $1 billion) were minted this year, according to Crunchbase. Eighty-three of those were female-founded. That’s four times more than 2020’s count, which totaled 18 female-founded unicorns out of a total 167.

This means the rate at which female-founded unicorns are minted is growing. 13.5% of all unicorn startups were female-founded compared to 10% in 2020.

Women founders are also seeing higher valuations. Canva became the highest valued female-founded startup in September at $40 billion.

Other notable female-founded unicorns last year include:

LogoOrgFounderIndustryValuation
papaya globalPapaya GlobalEynat GuezHR Tech$3.7B
MedableMedableMichelle LongmireHealth Tech$2.1B
divvy homesDivvy HomesAdena HefetsReal Estate Tech$2B

IPOs and exits

238 venture-backed startups went public with more than $1 billion valuations in 2021, compared to just 61 in 2020.

Seven of these companies were founded by women. However, prior to this year, women have only taken 20 companies public in the 30-year history of the public markets.

Notable IPOs led by women:

LogoOrgCEOIndustryValuation at exit
vimeoVimeoAnjali SudInternet$8.5B
Nextdoor Nextdoor Sarah Friar Internet$4.3B
clearClear Caryn Seidman-Becker Biometrics$4.5B
bumbleBumbleWhitney Wolfe HerdInternet$13B
Rent the runwayRent The Runway Jennifer HymanE-commerce$1.7B

Exit activity overall also increased overall in 2021. Acquisitions were the most common exit type last year. According to Crunchbase, 141 companies exited, compared to 58 in 2020.

Female-founded startups generated $59 billion in exit value as of Q3 in 2021, according to Pitchbook data.

Late-stage investment

$208 billion went into late-stage investment rounds in 2021, up 91% from the previous year. This is one of the largest increases seen to date, according to the Female Founders Fund.

Of that $208 billion, $35 billion went into female-founded growth rounds, and late-stage deals represented the highest proportion of investment into women founders.

LogoOrgFounder(s)IndustryGrowth Round
Tala Tala Shivani SiroyaFintech$145M Series E
Workit HealthWorkit HealthLisa McLaughlin and Robin McIntoshHealth Tech$118M Series C
CalibrateCalibrateIsabelle KenyonHealth Tech$110M Series B

Early-stage investment

A promising sign for the future, early-stage investments increased in both deal count and round size in 2021.

In the U.S., 279 female-founded startups raised Series A rounds compared to 115 in 2020. The average Series A round size for these companies was $14.2 million vs. $9.2 million in 2020. Some of the largest Series A investments include:

LogoOrgFounder(s)IndustrySeries A
seed healthSeed Health Ara Katz and Raja Dhir Health Tech$40M
stork clubStork ClubJeni Mayorskaya Health Tech$30M
iron fishIron FishElena NadolinskiCrypto$27.6M
Co-StarCo—StarBanu GulerInternet$15M

All of these factors trend positively for women founders in the coming years, but Maya Said, who raised a $12 million Series A for her AI medical startup Outcomes4me in 2021, has observed that there is even more work to be done to ensure the number of overall venture capital into women-founded startups increases.

“In addition to more funding, there need to be more women in venture capital investing roles, more mentorship for women early on, and more opportunities to build a network, says Maya Said, the founder and CEO of Outcomes4me. “This is not an easy problem to solve; it starts with awareness, which is where the world is today. Now, we need to act at all levels.”

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