Today, I’m proud to announce the second Female Founders Competition, a global contest to identify and fund top women entrepreneurs who are leading enterprise tech startups. This year, Microsoft’s venture fund, M12, is partnering with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda Gates, to help create a more equitable playing field for innovative female founders.
It’s well-documented that women-led companies deliver higher returns over time than those founded by men, yet female founders—particularly of enterprise tech startups—continue to receive significantly less access to capital. In fact, last year companies founded solely by women received only 2.3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups. While we’re seeing some pockets of progress, we as a VC community can do much more to support and financially back innovation and ideas from women-led companies. But where do we start?
Last year, M12 and our partners set out to expand the path to funding for women entrepreneurs by upending the traditional formula for sourcing potential investments. Through our first Female Founders Competition, we set the standard VC networks aside and made an open call for the talent to come to us. It worked. We received hundreds of applications and awarded a total of $4 million to two innovative women entrepreneurs: Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta; and Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas. In the time since, I’ve been inspired by how the winners leveraged these investments as springboards to expand their companies and grow their industry footprints.
For me, it’s a deeply personal issue – I share more on the subject in this Evoke essay. I’ve worked with startups for much of my career. I’ve seen the obstacles that female founders face just to get a seat at the table. And women like Greta and Julie remind me every day of the incredible opportunity that these underrepresented founders represent – not just for investors, but for all of us who believe in the power of technology. That’s why I’m proud to share our commitment to helping continue this progress by casting an even wider net.
As part of this year’s competition, we’re expanding our geographic reach, adding a new award category and increasing our combined investment with Mayfield and Pivotal Ventures from $4M to $6M. This enables us to award funds to four female-founded companies: two $2M awards for B2B enterprise technology and two additional $1M awards for women-led companies in deeptech, which is another critically underfunded area of opportunity. We’re also extending eligibility beyond the United States, Europe, and Israel by accepting applications from India.
I encourage you to watch this video where Pivotal Ventures’ Melinda Gates, Mayfield’s Navin Chaddha and I discuss why we’re so passionate about this issue and this competition. I hope you will be inspired, as we are, to find new ways to help create a more equal seat at the table for women founders.
Submissions are open now through December 15, 2019. Female-founded teams building enterprise SaaS or deeptech solutions are encouraged to apply at www.FemaleFoundersComp.com.
We can’t wait to see who we find and fund.