Female Founders On An Upward Trend, According To CrunchBase

Editor’s note: Gené Teare (@geneteare) a past female founder, heads up the venture program and content for CrunchBase. Ned Desmond (@neddesmond) is the COO of TechCrunch and CrunchBase. This report is the first in a series looking at female founders.

Anyone working in the startup world knows intuitively that women are not well represented in technical or founder roles — and that quantifying the issue is difficult because data is so scarce.

In 2013, Pinterest technologist Tracy Chou famously highlighted the issue in her post, “Where are the numbers?, which exposed the lack of published data from startups and mainstream tech companies on the number of women in technical roles.

Subsequently startups like Etsy and Dropbox, and giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, began reporting those numbers. They were low, but at least some technology companies had a baseline from which to measure progress.

When it comes to startup founders, however, the picture is still limited. Earlier this year, veteran tech executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy began a project called Choose Possibility to collect data on women founders –getting their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing women in the startup arena. The results of the #ChoosePossibility survey reveal much about the challenges women entrepreneurs face.

A comprehensive study of women startup founders, however, was still missing. In recent years, we know of two studies that tackled the issue, but their data sets were limited or dated (1). At CrunchBase, where Gene heads up the content team, we are embarrassed to say that we only began asking for data on founders’ gender in March. It’s a step in the right direction, but it left us with years of missing data about founders’ genders.

Given CrunchBase’s role as the open data platform for the startup community, we recognized that this data problem was ours to solve. So this spring we asked our research team to look at the period of 2009-2014 and find every U.S.-based startup that had an initial funding during that period and do two things: identify the founders for each startup as well as their genders.

Where a name could belong to a male or a female, we did some additional work to resolve the ambiguity. The results are not perfect, but we believe the error rate is not statistically significant. (We know people are not a statistic, so please let us know about any mistakes.)

As a result, we now have a data set for the past five years to analyze the participation rate of women as founders of U.S.-based, funded startups!

Funded Startups With A Female Founder: 2009-2014

And here is the top line: In the period from 2009 to 2014, CrunchBase records 14,341 U.S.-based startups that received funding. Of those, 15.5%, or 2,226, have at least one female founder.

In 2009, 9.5% startups had at least one woman founder, but by 2014 that rate had almost doubled to 18%.

Next, we asked how picture changed, if at all, from 2009 to 2014, and we uncovered an interesting shift.  In 2009, 9.5% startups had at least one woman founder, but by 2014 that rate had almost doubled to 18%. At the same time, the absolute number of companies (along with the total number of startups) with a female founder more than quadrupled from 117 in 2009 to 555 in 2014.  Based on those numbers, it seems reasonable to conclude that there has been a steady increase in the number of women founders in the past five years.

Companies with a Female Founder grouped by initial investment year

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That news should be encouraging to the startup and technology community, as well as aspiring female founders.

We’re only beginning to crunch the numbers, and we welcome suggestions. To get started, we decided to look at three questions. What cities appear most favorable for female founders? How do female founders fare at early versus later stages? And how likely are women to launch companies alone as opposed to with co-founders?

Where The Female Founders Are

Using Crunchbase location data, we looked at where women entrepreneurs appear to be doing well. We limited our analysis to markets where CrunchBase shows at least 15 companies with a female founder.

Teeny Las Vegas, with 58 startups in total, has the highest percentage of funded companies with at least one female founder: 26% (15 in total) of all companies founded and funded there from 2009 to 2014 were launched with at least one woman on the founding team.

New York City, on the other hand, has produced the largest number of companies with a female founder: 374, or 21% of all startups.

New York City, on the other hand, has produced the largest number of companies with a female founder: 374, or 21% of all startups. It turns out that the Big Apple beats out San Francisco (338 startups and 16%) on both fronts.  And while we are on the subject of New York City, it’s worth noting that Brooklyn, considered on its own, is the national frontrunner with 28% of startups, 33 in total, reporting at least one woman founder.

There are also notable metros lagging the overall national average of 15.4% for the years 2009 – 2014, including the well-known Silicon Valley cities of Palo Alto and San Jose.

These numbers will undoubtedly lead to speculation about why Brooklyn would have so many more companies with female founders than, say, Palo Alto. We will continue to study the data to try to answer that question by looking at a variety of factors, such as category, founder backgrounds and others.

Total Cities by Percent for Female Founded Companies

The threshold number of companies for this chart is 15+ female founded companies.

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Female Founders and Funding Stages

We also looked at the data to see how startups with a female founder fare as they progress from early to later stages. It is no surprise that female founders are most heavily represented in seed and angel financed companies — 19% of that total — considering the recent growth in the number of female founders.

For the same reason, it’s no surprise to see participation rate dip to 13% for companies at the A or B stage of financing and further still to 11.7% for Series C or later. The elapsed time between a seed investment and a C stage can easily be 4-6 years, which means many of those later stage companies were founded several years ago, when there were many fewer women founders. On that basis, it seems reasonable to expect the numbers to improve for later stage companies with a female founder as the years advance.

Companies by Latest Funding Stage Attained

Early stage venture = A, B rounds. Late stage venture = series C and later.
Each company is only counted once based on the latest funding stage they have reached.

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Female Founders And Founding Team Size

In the startup world, investors prefer more than one founder. Starting a company is hard and strong co-founders are a big benefit. Even so, in this CrunchBase data set, some 6,130 companies (43%) have only one founder and the average is 1.8 founders per startup. When it comes to women founders, the bigger the founding team the more likely there is to be a female co-founder. The chart below shows a more or less linear progression. Solo female founders make up 10% of all single-founder startups in our data set, and that percentage rises to 36% for companies with five or more founders. The fact that women make up only 10% of solo founders is an area that we will look at more carefully in the future.

Size of founding teams by company

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We recognize that we’ve only scratched the surface of the data, and we’re already working on a next wave of questions. Which colleges and graduate schools, for example, produce the most female founders? What percentage of female founders are technical versus non-technical? Which venture and seed investing firms have the highest representation of women founders in their portfolios? Look for those reports in the coming weeks

If you have an interesting angle you wish us to explore tweet us @crunchbase.

Mark Lennon and Christine Magee contributed to this post.

  • 1) Two substantial reports have been released in recent years that focus on female executives. The Diana report (2014) found that over a 3 year span (2011 to 2013) there were over 15% of female executives at privately funded businesses (seed, early & late stage venture capital funded). The report looked at 6,793 unique companies and of these 985 companies had female executives. The Dow Jones Women at the Wheel report (2012), covered a span from 1997 to 2011 (15 years), reported that for privately held companies (all companies? startups? ) 1.3% have a female founder, 6.5% female CEO and 20% C-level executive. The analysis covered 20,194 VC backed companies for the report.