The unicorn club has always been open to men and women. But in the five-plus years that we’ve been tracking venture-backed companies valued at $1 billion and up, the vast majority have had all-male founding teams.
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That’s not starting to change yet. However, our latest analysis of founding teams of new unicorn startups shows that the share of companies with female founders or co-founders is holding steady.
As of August, at least 39 private companies with all women or both men and women on their founding teams have crossed the $1 billion valuation mark for the first time, per Crunchbase data. That represents 12 percent of the 327 total new unicorns minted globally in the first seven months of 2021, roughly on par with prior years.
The newest cohort is a varied one. About half are U.S. companies, with the rest spread across continents. They represent sectors from e-commerce to blockchain to biotech.
To get a sense of the variety, we break out a list of 21 U.S. female-founded new unicorns below:
Two sectors—fintech and health—account for an outsized number of new unicorns with female founders or co-founders.
On the fintech front, Toronto-based Clearco, a provider of revenue-based financing to startups and high-growth companies, counts serial entrepreneur Michele Romanow as co-founder and president. Another is BlockFi, a New Jersey-based provider of loans backed by crypto assets that was co-founded by Flori Marquez, a former small business lending executive. Of new U.S. unicorns, roughly a third are fintech or fintech-adjacent sectors.
On the health front, the newest unicorn addition is New York-based Maven Clinic, a provider of digital health services for women’s and family health that just picked up $110 million at a valuation of over $1 billion. Its founder and CEO, Kate Ryder, is a former journalist and venture capitalist who launched the company in 2014. Maven joins Modern Health, a provider of online mental health therapy and coaching, on the list of female-founded digital health providers entering the unicorn club.
How 2021 compares
Recent data shows teams with female founders are neither gaining nor losing significant share in the unicorn ranks. Among all private venture-funded companies valued at $1 billion and up (at least 957 by our count), an estimated 11.4 percent have a female founder or co-founder.
Of course, not all unicorns stay private. Many exit our unicorn leaderboard each year by either going public or being acquired. To date, Crunchbase data shows that a total of 309 unicorns have matured to exit. Of those, 13 percent, or 41 companies in total, had female founders or co-founders.
From unicorns to decacorns
In addition to new unicorns, we also saw some existing billion-dollar-plus private companies jump to even higher valuations.
Last week, for instance, San Francisco-based Talkdesk, a cloud-based contact center technology provider, raised $230 million in a Series D round that pushed its valuation to more than $10 billion. The company was co-founded by Portuguese entrepreneur and startup investor Cristina Fonseca.
Nubank, the São Paulo-based digital bank co-founded by Cristina Junqueira, has also been on a fundraising and valuation-increasing tear this year. The 8-year-old company pulled in $1.15 billion in late-stage funding rounds in January and June, with its most recent valuation reportedly around $30 billion. The company also reportedly plans to go public, with an eye to raising more than $2 billion in a potential offering.
Bottom line: Female-founded companies aren’t just joining the unicorn ranks; they’re also exiting, and often doing so at enviable valuations.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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