Female-founded Unicorns Are Being Born At An Unprecedented Rate In 2019, Data Shows

When Rent the Runway and Glossier were both valued at $1 billion within the same week, they became the joint poster children for valuable female companies that could score returns. Extra points for being twin unicorns.

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But Crunchbase data indicates that those two valuations are more than impressive one-offs. In fact, 2019 is tracking to becoming a historic year for female-founded unicorns.  While still rare, they’re being born at an unprecedented rate.

For context, last year there were 12 unicorns born that had at least one female founder, globally. Less than half way into 2019, 10 female-founded companies have become unicorns.

The chart below shows how many companies with at least one female founder passed the $1 billion in valuation mark each year, starting in 2005. 1

The 2019 list includes the following companies: Airwallex, Away, Confluent, Coursera, ezCater, FabFitFun, Glossier, Horizon Robotics, Rent the Runway, and Vlocity.

What Founders Say

The first female-founded company to gain unicorn status this year was FabFitFun, which sells lifestyle subscription boxes to women. We caught up with the founder, Katie Rosen Kitchens, who has advice for fellow companies on this list: partner with other women.  

“When we do look at the landscape, and categories and fashion, which are obviously female consumer driven, who’s running those businesses today?” she said. “The majority are still older white men.”

With FabFitFun, she said she made it a point to “intentionally seek out people who don’t fit that mold” to partner with for products. That intentionality, she said, has been powerful.

When it comes to applying that same perspective to investors in her company, she has fewer options since VCs still skew male.

“On one hand, it’s really important to brands to just find the best fit of [someone] who understands the company, no matter what the gender is,” she said. “But naturally, there’s a little bit of tension here because there are less female VCs than male VCs.”

That tension has its impact. Last quarter, for example, only 17 percent of venture capital dollars were invested in companies with at least one female founder. Of that, 2 percent was invested in companies with only female founders.

Other than being a unicorn, and female-founded, Glossier and Rent the Runway were rare because they were also female-focused companies. Let’s look at some companies that aren’t.

Widening The Scope

Other companies on our female-founded list, like Grab and ezCater focus on ride-hailing, or catering, respectively.

Grab co-founder, Hooi Ling, said that “good ideas and innovation can come from anybody and from all corners of the globe.” She explained how Grab, for example, was founded along with Anthony Tan. The idea for the company grew from the need for a reliable solution for women to travel late at night in Malaysia. That concept has since grown.

Tan Hooi Ling, the co-founder of Grab.

“Grab has moved beyond transport to become the region’s leading super app, offering payments, financial services, food delivery, parcel delivery and a whole suite of other services to millions in Southeast Asia,” she said.

While she said that the focus of Grab has always been beyond gender, more than 40 percent of its workforce is women.

Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, told me that “on paper, VCs will fund women-led companies,” she said. In person is when the bias pops up, she said.

Referring to a study on blind bias in the Boston symphony in 1952, Vosmek said she still worries that even the ‘click of the heels’ of a female founder walking into a room can sway VCs to have bias.

Quartz, a business publication,  recently listed the top 10 biggest companies that have gone public or filed. According to its ranking, men still lead in top ranking positions.

None of the companies on the list have been led by a woman. The most women on any executive team or corporate board is three, according to S-1 filings, the story outlines.

It’s a small reminder that while indicators of progress are peeking out, we are still working toward a world where wearing heels, and scoring venture capital aren’t mutually exclusive.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.

  1. Our methodology for extracting this data included looking at which round, added to pre-money valuation, brought a company to unicorn status. We only looked at equity funding.

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