More Successes Beget More Success

By Jeanie M. Barnett

In 2021, female-founded companies generated a record-breaking exit value of nearly $59B.

Among other insights about female-led, VC-backed startups reported in Female Founders Fund’s 2021 Review of Funding for Female Founders:

+ More women-led companies went to IPO in 2021—seven in total. Put in perspective, only 20 female-founded companies went public during the entire preceding 30 years.

+ More women-founded companies achieved unicorn status—83 out of 595 total for the year. Among them are several companies in the GBC portfolio whose valuations got a big bump after raising later-stage rounds in 2021:

  • Spring Health (valuation of $2B), a mental-health-solutions employee assistance program led by April Koh; and
  • Maven Clinic (valuation of $1B), a telemedicine platform for women’s & family health founded by Kate Ryder.

In fact, later-stage growth rounds represented the highest proportion of VC investments in women-founded companies in 2021, the FFF report found. More of those in the GBC portfolio include:

  • Tala, an emerging-market fintech founded by Shivani Siroya ($145M series E);
  • Workit Health, an online addiction recovery program provider led by co-founders Lisa McLaughlin + Robin McIntosh ($118M series C); and
  • Tia, a women’s health platform, led by Carolyn Witte + Felicity Yost ($100M series B).

+ Series A rounds were also way up for female-founded startups — both in round size and deals. (To put in perspective, only 20-30% of companies that raise a seed round go on to raise a series A round.)

Nevertheless, ‘It’ Persists

The “it” in the room being… the paltry percentage of VC funding that goes to female founders. Companies founded solely by women garnered around 2% of all VC dollars in 2021, a figure that hasn’t budged for years.

Companies with male and female co-founders received a little under 15% of VC dollars last year, down from an all-time high, in 2017, of 15.9%, according to Pitchbook.

So, how do we reverse this persistent “it”? We believe four things need to change in the funding ecosystem:

1. More representation of women in check-writing roles.

At VCs, growth equity firms, PE firms and family offices, too. This has been trending in the right direction over the last three years, with increasing numbers of women as partners in VC firms (from 12 to 15%), angel investors (from 750 to 1,000 women) and those starting their own funds to invest in women and diverse founders. High net worth family offices are also allocating more capital to diverse founders and founders focused on social impact.

In fact, one study shows an unprecedented wave in just the last six years of new funds focused on diversity. Data compiled annually by Fairview Capital Partners (co-founded in 1994 by Joann Price, the firm is a pioneer of diversity-focused investing) show at least 627 PE and VC firms that are majority-owned by women and ethnic minorities in the US in 2021, an all-time high and up 25% from a year earlier. Of those firms, 280 were actively raising VC funds during 2021. And while they represent just about 6% of the record-breaking $128+ billion total raised, we’re confident this is just the beginning of huge growth ahead for diversity-targeted funds. Read the report.

2. More deals funded for women founders.

According to Pitchbook, a little over one-quarter of all the VC deals in 2021 were made with women-only (6.6%) or female-male co-founded companies (19%) about 3,945 deals in all. We need more VC funds that target more deals especially in earlier-stage rounds, that allow promising startups to breathe, stretch and grow.

3. Larger deal sizes for women founders.

The paltry percentage of VC investments in women founders is skewed heavily by large, later stage deals. Considering that the average seed-to-exit life cycle is seven to eight years, we need the continued progression of women founders in the entire life cycle of funding!

4. More successes beget more success.

Since our founding in 2016, we’ve bet on the potential of women-led businesses to become wildly successful and produce outsized returns — and to create a new crop of women founders with capital that they put back into the VC ecosystem. This will attract the attention of more investors. Perhaps then, the VC industry as a whole will wake up and realize the incredible opportunities they’ve been missing out on.

It’s not like we didn’t tell them so.


Highlights of our Q1-2022

We’re feeling all the good feels. Excitement, most of all. We’re excited about what’s coming ahead, from the visionary women founders who are leading the world into the future.


Did someone say, visionaries? We had the privilege to participate IRL at this year’s South by Southwest, the fab confab held annually in Austin, Texas.

GBC Partner Katherine Rice helmed a panel session on how D2C companies can successfully navigate new iOS rules put in place last year that are better protecting people’s privacy but making it harder to acquire and market to customers on digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Joining Katherine were GBC portfolio (co)-founders Nathan Kondamuri of Pair Eyewear and Jenna Kerner of Harper Wilde, both of whose companies are nailing it on social media. They gave the packed room so many insights and takeaways! And now, we’ve got the audio and highly recommend giving it a listen. Tune in here.

Also during SXSW2022, we teamed up with Deena Shakir, partner at Lux Capital to co-host an “Investing in Women” brunch. We filled the patio and back room at the Moonshine Grill in downtown Austin with an impressive group of women (and some men, too) who make it their business to support women and diverse founders and funders.

(Pictured here with GBC Partner Ita Ekpoudom (l): Ryan Nece of Next Play Capital, Kathryn Cartini of Chloe Capital, Kathryn Finney of Genius Guild, Helen Adeosun of Care Academy + Julian Eison of Next Ventures.)

SuperStars in the News

A number of founders in our portfolio have made major headlines this year (and we’re only four months in!)—closing on big fundraising rounds, making successful exits, and breaking new ground in their industries.

New Funding Rounds

+ Sallie Krawcheck recently closed on a series B round of $53M for her company, Ellevest. With a total of $1.44B in AUM (and growing), Ellevest is the first financial services company built by women, for women, to achieve this level of success.

+ Earlier this year, KJ Miller + Amanda Johnson, co-founders of Mented Cosmetics, closed on a $5M series A round, which will help them expand their distribution with Ulta Beauty and Target, and tee up for an international launch.

New Exits

+ In February, co-founders (and life partners) Bella Hughes + Harrison Rice celebrated the acquisition of their Hilo, HI-based beverage company, Shaka Tea, by King’s Hawaiian. The company will remain in Hilo and continue working with local farmers. The founders will also stay on to guide the brand’s roll-out nationwide. Read the full story.

+ Kinvolved, the all-in-one communications platform for schools that Co-founder/CEO Miriam Altman-Reyes launched a decade ago to help increase student engagement and reduce absenteeism (major issues during and beyond the pandemic), was acquired in late January by PowerSchool, the leading cloud-based software for K-12 education. Read the full story.

Out + About

+ Ita Ekpoudom will be a featured panelist on “Funding Women Entrepreneurs” during the2022 Milken Institute Global Conference, on May 3 in Los Angeles.

+ On May 12, Ita will be joining a roundtable discussion on the current state of investment in the growing women’s health industry, sponsored by Goodwin, a global law firm, in New York City.

+ Katherine Rice joined Furtuna co-founder Kim Walls for a panel discussion on “Women Investing in Women” at the Women in CPG Summit in San Diego on March 23.

+ Ita was a featured guest on a recent episode of the podcast, “The Important Part: Investing with Liz Young,” about fearless women in venture capital. Listen in.

+ Ita joined Invest in Girls co-chair Christina Qi (CEO of DataBento) for a virtual “Chats for Charity” presentation during the Booth Women Connect Conference on March 25 in Chicago, hosted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. GingerBread Capital is a supporter of the non-profit Invest in Girls, which teaches financial literacy and empowerment to high-school age students.

+ And, Ita will lead a cohort of GBC portfolio co. founders to the Masters of Scale Summit, October 18-20 in San Francisco.