This editorial article is a part of Technical.ly's Women in Tech month.
It’s no secret that female-founded companies aren’t getting the venture capital funding that they need, but consider that only 2.2 percent of venture capital went to all female-founded companies in the U.S. in 2018.
That means that roughly 98 percent of the $130 billion in total venture capital in the U.S. last year went to companies led only by men.
“Statistically, venture-backed companies led by women perform stronger than those run by men, yet only about 2 percent of capital is invested in female-founded companies,” Jennifer O’Daniel, a lead investor at CIT Gap Funds told Technical.ly.
But these are the national numbers, let’s narrow the focus in on D.C.
Breakdown of VC funding in D.C. in 2018
D.C. raised $2.34 billion in total venture capital in 2018, according to the MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and CB Insights. Looking at the year as a whole, the average deal size in 2018 was $31.1 million compared to $11.9 million in 2017, the report states. This overall number doesn’t show much improvement from 2017, since the District raised more than $2.4 billion overall that year, according to data from PwC and CB Insights as Technical.ly DC previously reported.
Though D.C. founders collectively raised a large amount of venture capital last year as a whole when compared to previous years, female tech founders are still struggling to secure financial backing.
Companies with at least one female founder saw $119.4 million in VC funding last year in the District, according to data compiled by Pitchbook. Of that funding, $110.65 million, or 93 percent, went to female-founded tech companies (totaling 37 of the 41 total venture capital deals for female founders in D.C).
Per a calculation of PwC and CB Insight’s $2.34 billion in VC funding stat for D.C., divided by Pitchbook’s data for companies with at least one female founder being $119.4 million, female tech founders in the District only raised 4.7 percent of total venture capital last year.
To narrow this stat even more, companies with all female tech founders received $34.82 million in funding according to Pitchbook. When divided by D.C.’s total VC last year, companies with all female tech founders only raised 1.49 percent of the $2.34 billion in venture capital. It’s important to note 100 percent of VC for companies with all female founders in D.C. went to tech companies last year.
O’Daniel, of CIT Gap Funds, has been a champion for women in tech companies in the D.C. area for years. She also works as an investment director with cybersecurity accelerator MACH37 and is a venture partner with NextGen Venture Partners. She said that the trends outlined above can be attributed to three areas:
- Peer Mentorship: There is a smaller pool of women who have “been there, done that.”
- Spin: Women tend to tell you exactly what’s wrong with their companies and not inflate their capabilities.
- Access to Capital: Angel investors typically invest in people that remind them of themselves.
When compared to Technical.ly’s other markets, D.C. female tech founders are receiving the highest share of VC funding going toward women, proving even more that the District is the place to be for women in tech.
In Philadelphia, companies with one female tech founder saw 14 percent of VC funding out of the $256.72 million that companies with at least one female founder received. Baltimore is upping the support a little more with 58 percent of its funding going to female tech founders out of the $97.5 million that companies with at least one female founder received and female tech founders in Delaware got 48 percent of the $27.26 million in funding.
VC opportunities for female founders in the D.C. area
While disparities continue, there are a group of organizations in D.C. working to change these trends.
Crunchbase reported that Chevy Chase, Md.-based New Enterprise Associates (NEA) was the most active venture investor in female-founded startups in 2018 with 24 investments, which aligns with the VC firm being listed as the most active tech investor in the District. The District also has some organizations in the D.C. metro area that are specifically focused on making VC funding more accessible to women, like the newly launched HERImpact DC program. The joint venture created by Ford Motor Company Fund (Ford Fund) and 1863 Ventures dished out $50,000 in cash as well as in-kind support to women social entrepreneurs at its inaugural pitch competition earlier this month.
Notably, The Vinetta Project is another local initiative geared toward boosting funding for women-led startups in the D.C. area. The collective that aims to close the gender-based VC funding gap by connecting female founders and investors was launched in the District in 2015 by Amelia Friedman, a prominent local women in tech entrepreneur and Hatch cofounder, and has since hosted annual pitch competitions, events and partnerships. Kelly O’Malley, Vinetta’s Mid-Atlantic regional director, has been working with the organization for a year and a half, leading the charge on getting women-led companies in front of investors.
“I think it’s incredibly challenging for female founders to raise anywhere; we all know the stats of only 2 percent of funding going to female-founded ventures nationally,” O’Malley told Technical.ly. “Specifically in D.C., I find that early-stage funding is hard to come by for the founders that we work with. Investors tend to be risk-averse and want to see a significant amount of revenue and traction, but a lot of founders need some fuel on the fire to achieve real growth.”
O’Malley said she thinks that the majority of funding goes to male-led startups because the majority of people who work in venture are men, and are more comfortable investing in people who look like them.
“If we really want to try to achieve gender parity in venture funding, we need more women, and diversity in general, on the investor side of the table,” she said.
Along with getting more women behind venture funding, O’Malley also said networking is a big part of fundraising. Vinetta periodically hosts Founders and Funders Dinners, which are intimate events to connect D.C.’s female entrepreneurial community.
“I think that when we have founders with high-growth potential companies, the community should rally around them and open up their networks as much as possible to help get these women funded.”
O’Daniel also said that CIT Gap Funds is making strides to close the gender gap. The organization is addressing peer mentorship through a series of small group dinners intended to create peer groups, and through a bi-weekly female founder roundtable that O’Daniel leads in Virginia. CIT Gap Funds is also addressing the funding gap through the Virginia Founders Fund, which invests a little earlier than the CIT GAP Fund into companies that might have a tougher time finding capital.
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