Home Articles & Features Why we need more female founders, and how we get them

Why we need more female founders, and how we get them

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You’ve read the headlines, you’ve seen the reports. Female startup founders are in short supply. But why? There are many suggestions as to why; women are risk averse so don’t suit the entrepreneurial world, women are too busy raising families, or my favourite, it’s a man’s world.

The landscape of business founders across the UK hasn’t changed drastically in the past 50 years. Although Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) have become more prevalent as a topic of conversation, tangible actions and results are less apparent.

According to company insight platform Crunchbase, only 12% of Unicorns in 2021 had female founders or co-founders. Closer to home in the UK, only 4% of the fastest-growing tech startups are founded by women. But these stats are at odds with the success of companies founded or led by females. Female-led businesses are proven time and time again to generate higher revenues, outperform their male counterparts, and have significantly lower failure rates, according to recent MIT research.

The fact that the lack of female founders is being talked about is obviously a good thing, but the problem with conversation is that very little actually gets done. I’ve sat around enough tables, discussing the importance of EDI to know that we all have the very best intentions, but the bottom line is we either a) don’t know where to start or b) don’t have the resource or time to commit to making the difference at grass roots to level the playing field. We live in a commercially driven world, where results are crucial and the speed at which those results are achieved is often even more so.


So whose responsibility is it to take the time to nurture and support female founders? Who should be creating an effective and encouraging environment to allow female founders to step out of their comfort zones, into the world of business, and succeed? For me, the answer is all of us.

In order to support the next generation of female founders, leaders and entrepreneurs, we all have a part to play. From local councils, successful founders, large corporates, and
educators. That’s why we have recently designed a Female Founders Incubator, launching
during Leeds Digital Festival in September at the home of tech in Leeds, Platform.

The programme is supported by successful founders and CEOs who will mentor five early stage female founders throughout the six month incubation period including award winning CEO’s Zandra Moore and Anna Sutton from local scaling tech companies. Partners including Law Firm Berwin Digital, Marketing specialists Social, and female focussed funding specialists Fund Her North will provide bespoke advice and support, and Bruntwood SciTech will facilitate the programme, coordinating all activity and providing free desk space to the successful entrepreneurs.

Fund Her North wants to improve access to funding for female-led businesses in the North of England through start-up, scale and exit. The Bruntwood SciTech Female Founders Incubator is exactly the kind of programme we want to support. In order to create a successful pipeline of investable female founders, we need an increase in this kind of activity. – Sarah Hex, Member of Fund her North.

Investors argue there aren’t enough female founders to invest in, central government sings a similar tune, but all entities are looking for fully formed successful female founders. This is the problem, we need to go back several steps to design a pipeline, a defined pathway for female founders to try, and fail, and to try again. Each year Bruntwood SciTech will run such an incubator, creating a Female Founders Forum where founders from each cohort, plus the wider founder community can continue to communicate, collaborate and innovate.

Leeds digital community is uniquely collaborative, and we are able to deliver this programme of support due to our generous partners and mentors who have agreed to give up their time to work with the winners of this incubation competition. We want to get to a point where there is no need for the word ‘female’ in front of ‘founder’, but the current drastically low representation means we need such a focus. Supporting the future diversity of entrepreneurialism is important to all of us, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because innovation and creativity are not an exclusive right. In order for technology and digital solutions to be fit for society, those designing it and creating these solutions need to be representative of society. When they are, innovation will jump to the next level, just watch.

If you are interested in applying for this programme, or know of any potential female founders in your networks, please do encourage them to apply. We have an extensive partner network who offer a range of support to founders, so if they aren’t successful on this programme we will help them to find a programme that fits their needs.

Article by Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation Services at bruntwood SciTech.

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