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Female founders get far less VC funding than men. Here’s a look at the numbers in Baltimore

Local companies founded by all-woman teams brought in $1.93 million in 2018, but there are efforts to address the massive overall disparities.

Iyonna Woods and Deborah Owens chat in the iFundWomen demo zone. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

This editorial article is a part of's Women in Tech month.

Across the U.S., the number of dollars invested by venture capitalists have been going up. Yet there remains a huge gap between the amount of those dollars that go to companies founded solely by women.

In 2018, market data company Pitchbook reported that just 2.3 percent of all venture dollars went to companies founded by all-female teams. Globally, about 10 percent of all seed dollars went to companies with at least one woman founder from 2012-2017, according to Crunchbase.

To see how this plays out specifically for tech founders on the local level, we drew on some data compiled a pair of firms that regularly keep track of venture capital.

The numbers

According to the MoneyTree report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers each year, Baltimore companies raised a collective $204 million in 2018.

Taking that baseline and data on funding provided to by Pitchbook, $97.5 million went to nine companies with at least one female founder — almost half of the total (compared to only 18 percent in Philly). Of that, seven of those were tech companies, which received $57 million. Dollar-wise, that means 28 percent of funding went to tech companies with at least one female founder. That was down from $62.74 million invested over seven deals in 2017, and $76.03 million across 10 deals in 2016.

That’s just the numbers for startups with at least one woman founder (meaning, the other founders could be men). The numbers dwindle significantly when the founding team includes only women. In that case, the total was just $1.93 million over three deals. All of these companies had a female CEO. In 2017, the total was $500,000 in a single deal. These are lower years, compared with totals of $22.49 million in 2016, and around $9 million each in 2014 and 2015.

Those disparities occur as venture funding overall is increasing. Maryland had a record-setting year in 2018, recording $1 billion in venture investment; five-year averages are also on the rise, PwC’s Brad Phillips told us in January. The same was true nationally, as the $130 billion invested across the country was seen as the highest since the dot-com era.

Sisu Global Health, Steve Case and a big check. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Sisu Global Health, Steve Case and a big check. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The successes

We often hear that putting forward the stories of Baltimore companies who do receive funding can help address the gap, and Baltimore had some notable highlights in recent years. Look no further than Allovue, founded by Jess Gartner and the top-ranked company on our first-ever realLIST in 2017. The edfintech company raised a total of $13 million, including $4 million that will ensure this year’s total for companies founded by women is higher. Earlier this month, Allovue acquired another company bringing tech to education finance.

Sisu Global Health, meanwhile, has raised $3.1 million to date following a $1.2 million round in the fall as the all-woman cofounding team of Carolyn Yarina, Gillian Henker and Katie Kirsch launched sales of the company’s blood autotransfusion device in Africa. The company earned $100,000 in backing from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest during its 2016 bus tour stop in the city, and has gone on to join the portfolio of Baltimore-based Camden Partners Nexus.

The list goes on. In recent months we’ve also seen Camden Partners Nexus invest in MindX, led by CEO Julia Brown. To take a few examples from last year, there was a $32.5 million funding round for WindMIL Therapeutics, where Kim Noonan is a cofounder, a $5 million funding round raised by AscelpiX Therapeutics, led by CEO Wendy Perrow, plus a $3.2 million funding round for b.well Connected Health, founded by Kristen Valdes.

B360 Founder Brittany Young talks about the dirt bike STEAM program after winning Boss Up Baltimore. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

B360 Founder Brittany Young talks about the dirt bike STEAM program after winning Boss Up Baltimore. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The fixes

Leading a roundtable group that brings together women startup leaders, Joni Daniels hears a lot about what could help move businesses forward.

Asked one thing that would help them push ahead, and the management development consultant had a simple answer: “More investment.”

In back-to-back pitch competitions we attended this year, the big checks were carried away by Femly Box founder Arion Long at Beta City and Leon Scientific’s Deborah Hemingway at FounderTrac.

There’s also been a specific focus through Moms as Entrpreneurs, iFundWomen and Black Girl Ventures‘ BossUp competition to put businesses forward and provide funding.

Inviting and encouraging women to participate in such events is key to offering exposure to investors. It’s also important to increase the numbers of women who are doing the judging, and investing.

“If there are women on pitch panels and women on VC panels,” Daniels said, “then you have a better chance of that person on the panel und where you’re coming from and then being able to perhaps be an advocate for you.”

And since these groups tend to be network-oriented, making a point to sponsor women can go a long way toward expanding those networks and grow representation. That’s true of entrepreneurs as well.

“Historically, women get a lot of mentoring but not a lot of sponsorship, so collectively we need to elevate and promote women leaders and entrepreneurs. My experience as a woman in a leadership role has, so far, been really positive — people are eager to help and support women in these roles,” said Emily English, CEO of South Baltimore-based Gemstone Biotherapeutics. Last year she attended Springboard Enterprises‘ three-day bootcamp, which includes women leaders.

“Hanging out with a group of women CEOs who were rocking it but also facing some of the same challenges as me was extremely validating and empowering,” she said.

She also looks to help others who are thinking about starting something new.

“I also try to accept every opportunity to talk with students or others who might be considering entrepreneurship, because there’s huge value in seeing that people ‘like you’ are doing this kind of job,” she said.

Series: Women in Tech Month 2019

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