Of all the startups launched in the UK between 2000-2018 19.4%were
founded by women.
It’s safe to say that the startup scene has always largely been dominated by men. As this stat shows,
it still is. Delve deeper into that figure, however, and women entrepreneurs in the UK have founded
over 500 still-active startups in the last 18 years.
Women founders are taking their much-deserved place in the business world through newfound confidence
in the system, winning ideas and grit – but there’s still a long way to go.
Despite evidence that women-led companies perform better than male-founded startups, generate 10%
more in cumulative revenue over five years and are less prone to corruption, women-founded startups
achieve considerably less funding from the investment community.
Through a series of interviews with women founders and analysis of
on startups with at least one woman founder, we’ve unpacked key stats that tell the story of women-led
startups across the UK.
Types of startup founded
Women vs. men
The top industries are similar for both men and women, though certain research and community-led
fields, such as education, are more prominent with women founders. Quantitative-based sectors like
finance are also traditionally seen as male-dominated industries, which not only creates career
advancement challenges for women in these sectors, but engenders cognitive bias, steering women
towards more soft-skilled-based businesses.
Healthcare is a top industry for women due to the recent rise in 'Female Health Innovation' or
Research shows that women make primary healthcare decisions for their families, are key influencers on
healthcare advice for friends, and are more likely to use digital healthcare tools compared to men.
It’s no wonder then that this industry – which incorporates fertility solutions, period tracking and
pregnancy care – is not only booming but is being led by women founders.
Charlotte Guzzo, co-founder of
– a DNA insights platform – reveals why she began her startup below.
We wanted to build a platform that would allow individuals to truly be a part of the research
process and to contribute to scientific progress. We thought that if people knew the difference
they could make with their data, they would likely want to participate and benefit from
cutting-edge insights about their own health in the process. Unlike many direct-to-consumer
sequencing companies, however, we also felt that it was fundamental for individuals to fully
control their data and decide who can access it and for what purpose.
It’s no surprise that London and Cambridge, the UK’s answer to Silicon Valley, are home to the most
startups, but the more interesting data lies within the types of startups found in these cities, as
shown in the table below.
Healthcare startups are the most popular ventures for women founders in London, while Cambridge’s
scientific, analytic and tech resources seem to have led women to see more potential in IT, financial
services and AI.
Scroll down to view the number of startups across other major cities in the UK.
Types of Startups Founded by Women
Clothing and Apparel Design
Advertising, Sales and Marketing
Sports Health Care
Types of Startups Founded by Men
Information Technology Software
Fitness, Health Care, Wellness
Types of Startups Founded by Women
Privacy and Security Software
Consumer Goods and Engineering
Data and Analytics
Science and Engineering
Types of Startups Founded by Men
Medical Device, Therapeutics
Clinical Trials, Virtual Reality
Content Syndication, Publishing
Manufacturing, Renewable Energy
Glasgow takes the third spot for women, boasting the closest thing to a level-playing field in terms
of the startup gender gap.
The biggest disparity appears to be in Manchester and Edinburgh, home to more than 50 men-founded
startups and fewer than 10 women-founded startups.
Despite a dip in 2014, the steady-then-steep curve in women-led startup numbers can not only be
attributed to a cultural shift towards entrepreneurialism, but also to society’s willingness and
government pressure to support women founders.
Underlying societal norms, such as men being primary breadwinners and women taking career breaks to
start families, may still deter women from founding a company.
The sharp drop between 2015-2017 is also seen across men-led startups – perhaps a result of Brexit
uncertainty and investor appetite moving away from Angel and Seed investment towards funding more
mature businesses at later stage investments in areas like finance; this inevitably favours
male-dominated founders. You can read more about this in
KPMG’s global analysis of funding.
Beneath the bar chart, you’ll find key dates of funds, schemes and communities that may have
influenced the trend.
Please note: 2018 data is not yet available and therefore hasn’t been included in the chart
Woman-led UK startups receive only 12.8% of total funding. Unfortunately, there may be a direct link
between gender and the lack of funding. We spoke to two women founders who, despite having personally
witnessed bias, remain adamant that sexism won’t hold them back. Read their testimony below.
Funding for startups founded by men£20,207,446,424
Funding for startups founded by women£2,579,818,506
When we were raising our seed funding round after graduating from Entrepreneur First (EF), an
investor that came to our demo day said they wouldn’t invest in Brolly “because the CEO was a
woman”. EF blacklisted them from their investor list, but the reality is whilst this was an
instance of overt sexism, unconscious bias does exist towards female founders – and also towards
other underrepresented groups. That being said, this was very much the exception – Brolly actually
closed one of the fastest seed investment rounds in EF’s history…
I think there are genuine biases against women particularly around getting funding, I know this
from personal experience. That said, being aware of that and challenging yourself to overcome
those barriers is a great place to start and let’s not forget that generally speaking, women are
more collaborative and community-minded than men, these attributes definitely help when setting up
Startups go through a series of funding stages from venture capital firms. They progress through the
funding series as they demonstrate:
Increased probability of success
Proof of concept
Growth in customer base
As discussed, VC investment focus has shifted towards businesses at Series A and B stages, where
women-led companies are less prevalent. Investors are also favouring male-dominated industries like
Fintech and AI.
Orla Shields, CEO and Co-Founder of GetRentr, also highlights the abundance of male investors and how
we tend to subconsciously stick to our own kind.
Hover over each bar in the chart to see the percentage of businesses currently at each venture
“…if you look at the statistics, far fewer female entrepreneurs get VC and angel investment for
their businesses and I do think this is an issue. There are fewer female entrepreneurs, of course,
but I think when you allow for that, there are still far too few female entrepreneurs getting
funded. It’s hard to say what the reason is though my hunch is that there are also far fewer
female investors. The fact that we as female entrepreneurs are pitching to men 99% of the time may
mean that there is sometimes an unconscious bias.
Size isn’t always an indicator of success. The successful companies of the founders we interviewed,
GetRentr, Brolly and farillio, all have 1-10 employees.
Overall, the data shows that more women founders currently have companies with 1-10 employees. This
could mean that they’re at the initial growth stage, or perhaps that they have a lack of funding. As
founders Romi Savova and Merlie Calvert explain – it could be that women also take a more considered
approach to hiring.
It’s crucial to build the right team, who you can trust to help deliver your vision. Culture is
at the heart of every organisation and I’m constantly inspired by the PensionBee team and their
ability to make the right decisions so that we do right by our customers.
…if you surround yourself with great people, you’ll be amazed what can get achieved. Farillio is
only possible because great people also staked their careers, reputations and money on it
alongside me. I might be the driving force behind it, with a very strong vision of what I want us
to achieve, but it’s only as a team that we can achieve that vision – and make it far better in
Having someone to guide you through the tough times always helps. Engaging in a mentorship programme can benefit you personally as well as your business, giving you access to latest trends, know-hows and opportunities to develop.