Funding For Female Founders Stalled at 2.2% of VC Dollars in 2018

January 28, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC

In 2018, all female founders put together received $10 billion less in funding than one e-cigarette company, Juul, took in by itself.

It’s a stunning statistic—made possible by an unusual $12.8 billion corporate investment in Juul—but it shows how investors can go all in when a company or category catches their eye. That didn’t happen in 2018 for U.S. female founders, who raised $2.88 billion last year split across 482 teams, according to data from PitchBook and All Raise, the organization supporting women in venture capital and startups. That’s 2.2% of the $130 billion total in venture capital money invested over the year—the exact same percentage that Fortune reported for 2017. (And a decline from a 2.53% number PitchBook reported more recently for that year after recategorizing some 2017 deals.)

From a pure dollar perspective, 2018 did represent a step forward. As a whole, companies led by a single female founder or an all-female team of founders raised nearly $1 billion more in 2018 than in 2017 ($2.88 billion vs. $1.9 billion). Yet the percentage of the total VC pie given to female founders did not budge. One possible explanation: the increased frequency of so-called mega-rounds, which nearly always go to male founders and continue to grow the size of the VC pool. Take SoftBank and its $100 billion Vision Fund—of the Japanese firm’s top 25 investments as measured by PitchBook, only two went to a company with a female co-founder (both to Grab, co-founded by Tan Hooi Ling and not included in this data as a non-U.S. company).

“2018 was a good market for venture despite volatility in the public markets, and I think female founders have enjoyed some of those trends,” says Eva Ho, general partner at Fika Ventures and leader of All Raise’s data team. “The numbers have shown more deals being done, but the fundamental issue remains that the bulk of large dollars are going to male-only founders. The few we see on the female side, like The Wing, are not enough to combat some of these ginormous rounds like Bird.”

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All-male teams got 76%, or $109.36 billion, of the total $130 billion invested in 2018. Companies with at least one female founder received $15.76 billion, or 12%, of last year’s venture capital (a number that includes the 2.2% that went to companies with exclusively female founders). The rest went to companies where the founders’ gender couldn’t be identified.

The 2018 total dollar investment surpasses a previous peak established in 2014, when female founders raised $2.2 billion. Last year’s average deal size for a woman-led company was $5.9 million. For men, that number was $17.3 million.

Looking at individual deals, the discrepancy between relatively small rounds for female founders and commonplace mega-deals for male founders becomes even clearer. The 10 biggest deals of 2018 all went to companies founded by men. The largest venture capital raise last year for a female-led startup went to Minted, the social commerce company co-founded by Mariam Naficy and Melissa Kim. In a December 2018 Series E round, the company raised $208 million from investors—well below even the 10th-biggest raise of the year for male-led companies, which clocks in at $865 million. (Female-led Humacyte raised more in total last year split between two deals, one Series C and one corporate, for a combined $225 million.)

The rest of the female-led startups appearing on the list of 2018’s biggest deals are split between healthcare, beauty, and e-commerce, and include some of the buzziest female-founded companies: The RealReal’s $115 million Series G, The Wing’s $75 million Series C, Nohla Therapeutics’ $56 million Series B, and defi Solutions’ $55 million Series C.

The highest-valued female-founded companies of the year, PitchBook reports, were Pat McGrath Labs, Humacyte, and Rent the Runway. Moda Operandi, Birchbox, Dia&Co, and Away also appear on that list even though they didn’t make the top 10 deals of the year—either because they did not raise or because their 2018 funding rounds were not large enough to qualify. (Also of note, Moda Operandi has a female founder but a male CEO.)

On the investor side, certain firms did better than others; New Enterprise Associates closed the most deals with female founders, PitchBook reports.

These numbers are stalling as organizations like All Raise attempt to spur change in Silicon Valley. The group that supports women founders and investors publicly launched in April 2018 with founding members across top investment firms.

So why the standstill? Many of the same issues that have been discussed for years: implicit and explicit bias among investors, a lack of women making investment decisions, prejudice against women’s less bombastic style of pitching to investors, and more. “With every gain we get there’s a counter-gain, with an all-male firm being founded or an all-male company getting a super-sized round,” Ho says.

And yet, in 2018 Silicon Valley added 36 women as investment partners at venture capital firms—the most ever in a single year. “Data around this topic can be a bit demotivating,” Ho says, “but there is starting to be a change in the industry.”

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