Last year was a blockbuster for private companies newly valued at $1 billion or above, and unicorn startups founded by women weren’t left out of the growth.
According to Crunchbase data, a total of 595 companies joined The Crunchbase Unicorn Board last year, far exceeding the numbers in prior years. Of these, 83 were founded or co-founded by women, more than quadrupling that category’s count from 2020, when there were 18 new unicorn companies with at least one woman as a founder.
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2022’s new female-founded unicorns
That pace seems to be keeping up into 2022. So far this year, 10 of the 100 or so new unicorns that have been minted have at least one female co-founder.
Of these, Florida-based payments company Stax, Boston-based global employment platform Globalization Partners, and Singapore-based customer engagement service Insider are led by female founder CEOs.
“As a minority woman and executive in fintech, I’m no stranger to discrimination and doubt,” Stax CEO Suneera Madhani, who co-founded the company with her brother, Sal Rehmetullah, said in a statement earlier this month when the company raised $245 million at a unicorn valuation. “My brother and I built this company from our parents’ home back in 2014. Since then, we’ve grown 500% in the past three years and processed more than $23 billion in payments for 22,000 businesses nationwide. We share this milestone not just with our team, but every person of color trying to hustle, build their own business and make history.”
Female-founded unicorns grow market share
The proportion of new companies joining The Crunchbase Unicorn Board with at least one female founder in 2021 was 14 percent—matching 2019—the highest proportion since 2015.
Of these new unicorns—which span agtech, health care, e-commerce, software and delivery, among other sectors—16 are led by female CEOs.
New York-based Papaya Global, an HR and payroll platform, is the most highly valued of the new female-founded unicorns, at $3.7 billion. It was initially valued at $1.2 billion in its Series C in 2021 led by Greenoaks Capital. It then raised a Series D funding six months later, led by Insight Partners and joined by Tiger Global that more than tripled its valuation.
“With companies switching to remote work and compliance becoming increasingly complex, we are seeing substantial demand for Papaya’s solution, even in a challenging business environment,” CEO and founder Eynat Guez said in an announcement of Papaya’s most recent funding.
The company said it has seen more than 300 percent revenue growth over the past three years.
Premium food delivery company Market Kurly, headquartered in Seoul and founded by CEO Sophie Kim, is the second most highly valued new female-founded unicorn, at $3.3 billion. It also raised multiple fundings in 2021 with a step up in valuation from $2.2 billion in July 2021 to $3.3 billion by December of that year in a round led by Anchor Equity Partners.
Oakland-based LaunchDarkly, led by Edith Harbaugh, is the third most highly valued company. It hosts a software feature management platform. In its most recent funding it was valued at $3 billion in a Series D funding led by Lead Edge Capital.
Female-led debuts in 2021
A slate of female co-founded unicorns also went public in 2021: 19 companies out of the total 124 unicorns that went public last year. Of these, seven were taken public by woman CEOs.
Records were shattered for global venture funding and new unicorn creation in 2021. Coinciding with that, there were much larger counts of female-founded unicorns than in any prior year and higher counts of female CEOs leading these companies, though unicorn startups founded by women aren’t yet making the meaningful gains in percentage share that we’d like to see.
These were not the only woman-led venture-backed companies to go public at billion-dollar valuations in 2021. Several companies were not valued in a private financing as a unicorn, but were valued in their public-market debuts above $1 billion. They include dating app Bumble, biometric identity company Clear, apparel company FIGS, online fashion brand a.k.a. Brands and biotechnology companies Lyell Immunopharma, Humacyte and Immunocore.
From an analysis of 2020 unicorn IPOs, we do not find a unicorn company taken public by a female CEO. Seven unicorn companies were taken public by a female CEO last year—a significant improvement.
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The data contained in this report comes directly from Crunchbase, and is based on reported data. Data reported is as of March 16, 2022.
The Crunchbase Unicorn Board includes private unicorn companies with post-money valuations of $1 billion or more and is based on Crunchbase data. New companies are added to the Crunchbase list as they reach the $1 billion valuation mark as part of a funding round.
Please note that all funding values are given in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted. Crunchbase converts foreign currencies to U.S. dollars at the prevailing spot rate from the date funding from the date funding rounds, acquisitions, IPOs and other financial events are reported. Even if those events were added to Crunchbase long after the event was announced, foreign currency transactions are converted at the historic spot price.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
Editor’s note: A paragraph was added to this article to include examples of venture-backed companies led by female CEOs that weren’t valued privately as unicorns, but that debuted in public-market exits above $1 billion.
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