Artificial intelligence Diversity Health, Wellness & Biotech

As Funding Fell, So Did The Number Of New Female-Founded Unicorn Startups

Illustration of woman's head with a unicorn lightbulb "Idea."

With venture investment levels falling over the past two years, fewer new companies are crossing the $1 billion “unicorn” valuation threshold. The number of new female-founded unicorns, in particular, has dwindled sharply.

Per Crunchbase data, just seven U.S. companies with female founders joined the unicorn club in 2023 and 2024. That’s a precipitous decline from the peak year of 2021, when dozens of female-founded American companies met or exceeded the $1 billion level for the first time, amid a global boom for the category.

Who’s joining the unicorn board

The most recent female-founded addition to the unicorn board is Redwood City, California-based Zum, provider of a student transportation platform used by school districts across the country. The 9-year-old company picked up $140 million in a Series E round in January at a $1.3 billion valuation.

Led by co-founder and CEO Ritu Narayan, Zum tries to help school districts increase efficiencies and reduce the costs of managing bus fleets through its AI-enabled platform. The technology gives districts visibility so they can optimize routes and even deliver real-time updates to parents.

Others include:

  • Imbue, a startup that trains foundational models to develop AI agents, landed $200 million in a September Series B round at a valuation of more than $1 billion. The 3-year-old, San Francisco-based company’s co-founder and CEO is Kanjun Qiu.
  • Green hydrogen company Ohmium secured $250 million a year ago at a unicorn valuation in a Series C led by TPG Rise Climate. The 5-year-old company, which lists its chief compliance officer, Kirsten Burpee, as a co-founder, designs and manufactures proton exchange membrane electrolyzer systems, which are used to split water through electrolysis to create hydrogen.
  • Los Angeles-based Metropolis, a provider of checkout-free parking, raised $1.05 billion in an October Series C, along with $650 million of debt financing. One of its co-founders is Courtney Fukuda, currently serving as chief integration officer.
  • San Francisco-based Replit, a developer platform that uses AI to complete code, has raised $222 million in known funding at a valuation of at least $1.2 billion. The 8-year-old company lists Haya Odeh as co-founder and VP of design.
  • Adept AI, founded in 2022, has raised $415 million to date at a last reported valuation of at least $1 billion. One of the company’s co-founders is Niki Parmar, who also served as CTO. Parmar is also co-founder of Essential AI, founded last year, which came out of stealth with $56.5 million in funding in December.
  • New York-based fertility clinic network Kindbody raised $100 million led by Perceptive Advisors. The company, which plans to expand its clinic footprint, was valued at $1.8 billion. Its founders are Gina Bartasi and Joanne Schneider.

Yes, there’s a lot of AI

Looking at the list above, it’s clear artificial intelligence is a popular core or enabling technology among new, female-founded unicorns.

This isn’t entirely surprising, given that AI is a common theme among all global unicorns minted over the past year. As of late October, 1 in 5 of the new billion-dollar startups to join The Crunchbase Unicorn Board in 2023 were artificial intelligence companies, an analysis of the board shows.

Notably, however, AI is even more highly represented among new female-founded unicorns. Of the seven listed above, three – Adept AI, Replit and Imbue — are essentially pure-play AI technology startups. Two more — Metropolis and Zum — list AI as an enabling technology.

Given the small size of the sample set, it may be wise to avoid drawing too many inferences from the high representation of AI on the list. Clearly, however, it’s safe to say that female founders and executives are playing a leading role in the space. This is evidenced not just by new unicorns but also by more established startups such as Anthropic, which has raised more than $10.3 billion to date with Daniela Amodei taking a lead role as co-founder and president.

More unicorns ahead?

Given the slow pace of creation for new female-founded unicorns in recent quarters, it’s also reasonable to both hope and expect the numbers will improve. After all, last year was a comparatively weak period for venture funding overall.

The contraction was most pronounced for the kinds of large, later-stage rounds that most frequently come with unicorn valuations. As a result, we’re seeing a drop in unicorn creation across the board. Given the cyclical nature of startup investment, it should eventually be due for a pickup.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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