STARTUPS BY WOMEN, FOR WOMEN

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Shining a light on the changemakers empowering women across the globe.


Despite comprising over half the global population, women receive a mere 2.3% of venture capital funding. This staggering disparity, a chasm rather than a gap, begs the question: Why are women still so underrepresented in the entrepreneurial landscape? Is it a lack of ambition, a dearth of talent, or a systemic bias embedded within the very fabric of the funding ecosystem? The reality is multifaceted, encompassing societal norms, unconscious prejudice, and a lack of access to crucial resources. Yet, amidst these challenges, a wave of innovative startups is rising to meet this need, actively fostering women’s empowerment, inclusion, and entrepreneurial success. These changemakers, fueled by a mission beyond profit, are rewriting the narrative, shattering glass ceilings, and paving the way for a more equitable future. We shine a spotlight on some of the pioneering startups, exploring their diverse approaches, groundbreaking solutions, and the tangible impact they’re creating for women and society as a whole.

 

 

SheEO is a non-profit organisation dedicated to economically empowering women entrepreneurs in marginalised communities through financial literacy training, mentoring, and access to capital. It was founded by author Vicki Saunders to present a new economic model rooted in the potential of community connections. Specifically, SheEO targets women in low-income, African communities who face barriers to achieving financial security and growing their small businesses. In alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals #5 (gender equality) and #8 (decent work and economic growth), SheEO provides these female micro-entrepreneurs with the skills, guidance, and funding often lacking from traditional financial institutions. Through its accelerator program, women receive hands-on support in areas like business planning, marketing, accounting, and accessing credit to foster sustainable enterprise development. Additionally, SheEO’s innovative peer-to-peer investing model called ‘radical generosity’ allows women donors known as ‘Activators’ to pool and collectively disburse funds to vetted women-owned ventures across Africa. This collaborative approach aims to celebrate and finance high-potential female founders dedicated to social impact. With economic empowerment correlated with a multitude of benefits for women, families, and communities, SheEO’s commitment to training, mentoring, and investing in women is transforming business and driving positive change across the continent.

 

 

She’s the First is a non-profit organisation dedicated to ensuring girls worldwide can access education and have their voices heard. Founded in 2009 by Christen Brandt and Tammy Tibbetts, She’s the First partners with community leaders and grassroots women’s organisations across the Global South to directly fund and support girls’ education and leadership development. Through its ‘Girls First Institute’, She’s the First provides training and mentorship programs that teach girls to advocate for their rights while also building the capacity of local organisations to support girls’ development. With girls directly involved in designing responsive initiatives around sexual health, positive gender norms, and continuing education, She’s The First ultimately aims to shift attitudes and policies restricting girls’ potential. Brandt stresses the importance of showcasing these girls and women as changemakers. The organisation has supported over 2,000 girls’ education to date across more than 20 developing countries. With education intrinsically tied to broader women’s empowerment, She’s the First is creating a world where girls can access schooling, feel respected in their communities, and realise their full leadership abilities to drive change.

 

 

Ellevest is a digital financial advisor platform specifically tailored for women and their unique financial needs. Founded in 2014 by Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevest seeks to close pervasive gender gaps in financial literacy and investing outcomes. Research shows the deck is often stacked against women – they invest less, are paid less, and face more career breaks, leading to over 30% less retirement savings yet longer average lifespans. Ellevest confronts these systemic disadvantages through personalised, low-cost portfolios optimised for salaries, career gaps, and retirement timelines using gender-specific salary curves and actuarial tables. Going beyond investment management, Ellevest empowers women through financial literacy courses, career coaching, and community networking. This holistic approach equips women with the knowledge and tools to save more, reach financial milestones, and close investing gaps exacerbated by gender pay and power imbalances. With USD 1.5 billion under management and serving hundreds of thousands to date, Ellevest brings tangible impact in making the financial system work better for women and their unmet needs at all stages of life.

 

 

Maven Clinic is a digital healthcare company transforming access to women’s and family health services. Founded in 2014 by CEO Kate Ryder, Maven is dedicated to providing timely, affordable support for the unique health needs women face at every age and stage of life. Through its virtual care platform and customisable programs, Maven offers 24/7 on-demand video appointments with providers across over 30 specialities including mental health, pregnancy care, lactation support, women’s health, and paediatrics. These practitioners provide judgment-free guidance tailored to each woman’s health history and life circumstances. Maven Clinic breaks down barriers to critical health services including appointment availability, prohibitive costs, work schedules, and location constraints. Additionally, Maven partners with leading companies like Unilever and WW to provide maternity, return-to-work and family planning benefits to over 10 million working women in their networks. With its innovative model connecting female patients to vital health services and information conveniently from home, Maven is helping to revolutionise fragmented healthcare systems by putting women’s comprehensive well-being first.

Across industries, women-led startups are disrupting traditional sectors with fresh ideas and innovative solutions. From fintech and healthcare to transportation and education, female founders are reimagining stagnant spaces with outside-the-box thinking. For example, in finance, digital investment platforms like Ellevest are targeting women’s unmet needs around saving, investing, and retirement planning. In healthcare, startups like Maven Clinic are providing women-focused virtual care and support for taboo topics like menopause and mental health. The transportation sector is also getting a femme upgrade via startups like The Wing and SafeHer reshaping safety and community for women commuters. These groundbreaking companies prove that when industries fail to serve diverse populations, women see the gaps and step up to fill them. The unique perspectives female founders bring are delivering better user experiences and products that work for historically overlooked demographics. As women continue entering and leading in traditionally male sectors, their disruptive impact will only grow.

Despite historical challenges, the future looks bright for women entrepreneurs. Women-led startups are not only growing in number but also outpacing male-founded companies on metrics like revenue and workforce diversity. In fact, startups with at least one female founder typically generate 30% greater returns for investors. As more women gain access to capital and mentoring, these promising growth trends will likely continue.

Powerhouse startups like Canva, 23andMe, Stitch Fix, and TheRealReal prove that women at the helm can build highly lucrative, billion-dollar companies. Furthermore, the success of current female founders inspires future generations to innovate and lead. With more women entering STEM fields and entrepreneurial programs today, the pipeline of women founders has never been stronger. 

While systemic biases may not disappear overnight, women’s fearless drive and track records of success make them an undeniable force. As their startups continue excelling and redefining norms, women entrepreneurs are clearly demonstrating their vital role in driving economic growth, opportunity, and positive change for the future. The wheels are already in motion for women-led startups to keep reaching new heights.

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