Women in startups

Written byAnnabel Mekelenkamp
Updated 11th February 2019

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 Crunchbase’s data 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 'FemTech'. 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 Heterogeneous – a DNA insights platform – reveals why she began her startup below.

  • Founded by women
  • Health Care 8.41%
  • E-Commerce 8.01%
  • Artificial Intelligence 5.56%
  • Fashion 4.75%
  • Education 4.75%
  • Marketplace 4.74%
  • Social Media 3.93%
  • Analytics 3.93%
  • BiotTechnology 3.66%
  • Fintech 3.52%
  • Founded by men
  • Artificial Intelligence 6.90%
  • E-Commerce 5.94%
  • Health Care 5.54%
  • Fintech 5.51%
  • Financial Services 4.47%
  • Analytics 4.09%
  • Machine Learning 3.85%
  • Social Media 3.77%
  • Education 3.72%
  • Advertising 3.45%

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.

Charlotte Guzzo

COO, Heterogeneous

Location of startup founded

Women vs. men

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.

  • London
  • Cambridge
Types of Startups Founded by Women
  1. Health Care
  2. Clothing and Apparel Design
  3. Financial Services
  4. Professional Services
  5. Internet Services
  6. Education
  7. Advertising, Sales and Marketing
  8. Biotechnology
  9. Artificial Intelligence
  10. Sports Health Care
Types of Startups Founded by Men
  1. Financial Services
  2. Tourism, Travel
  3. Health Care
  4. Information Technology Software
  5. Fitness, Health Care, Wellness
  6. Education
  7. Hedge Funds
  8. E-Commerce, Fashion
  9. E-Commerce, Marketplace
  10. Computer Software
Types of Startups Founded by Women
  1. Biotechnology
  2. Information Technology
  3. Financial Services
  4. Artificial Intelligence
  5. Hardware Services
  6. Privacy and Security Software
  7. Consumer Goods and Engineering
  8. Health Care
  9. Data and Analytics
  10. Science and Engineering
Types of Startups Founded by Men
  1. Biotechnology
  2. Medical Device, Therapeutics
  3. Pharmaceutical
  4. Hardware, Software
  5. Genetics
  6. Clinical Trials, Virtual Reality
  7. Machine Learning
  8. Content Syndication, Publishing
  9. Artificial Intelligence
  10. 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.

Date founded

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

2006Enterprising Women Community founded
A support and training community which connects and empowers women in business
2007Innovate UK founded
A government funded public body to support new business ideas
2008 Aspire Fund established
A fund to support women-led businesses across the UK
2009 Mumpreneur Conference launched
An event dedicated to mothers running businesses in the UK
2011Get Mentoring Scheme launched
An initiative to helping thousands of experienced business people become mentors to SMEs
2012 Prowess.org.uk and Women's Business Council established
An online hub for women-friendly business support, inspiration and information and a government-backed, business-led initiative to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth
2013STEMettes founded
A social enterprise to support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers
2014£1million Challenge Fund and Growth Vouchers Programme launched
A government fund to help women grow their business online and vouchers to help small businesses find strategic advice from private sector suppliers
2015Shared Parental Leave Law introduced
A law enabling parents to share leave following birth or adoption of a child
2016Women in Innovation Campaign and inFocus Funding Award launched
A series of women-only funding awards, mentoring and support to encourage innovation

Funding for startup founded

Women vs. men

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…

Phoebe Chibuzo Hugh

Founder & CEO, Brolly

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 by yourself.

Sam White

CEO, Pukka Insure

Success by venture stage

Women vs. men

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 stage.

“…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.

Orla Shields

CEO and Co-Founder, GetRentr

This, it seems, could be to the detriment of the investors, as it’s been found that women-run startups produce more revenue and are less corrupt. There have also been recent breakthroughs of women-led startups gaining important success.

Size of startups

Women vs. men

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.

no. of employees

  • 1 to 10
  • 11 to 50
  • 51 to 100
  • 100+

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.

Romi Savova

Founder & CEO, PensionBee

…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 fact.

Merlie Calvert

Founder, Farillio

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