Room for improvement: The situation of female founders in Europe

By Benedikta Schlange, RBI |

International Women’s Day, which took place on March 8, inspired me to find out what the situation of female entrepreneurs in Europe is actually like. How many are there? Where are they most represented? Do they get as many investments as men or are they still lagging behind? In the course of my research, I came across an interesting report on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe. I will share the most important findings on this topic with you in this article. And I hope to inspire you to maybe start a business yourself, or to actively promote female founders and advocate for more equality.

Only about 15 per cent of (co)founders are female

So, during my research I came across Startup Heatmap Europe. It is a product of the European Startup Initiative (ESI) , a non-profit organization aiming at facilitating interaction between startup founders and stakeholders interested in creating an attractive startup environment in Europe.

The report shows that only 15.5 per cent of founders or co-founders are female. Female CEOs receive 38 per cent less funding than their male counterparts when starting under the same conditions. Only 7 per cent of VC funding in Europe goes to startups with a female CEO. And in top ecosystems like Berlin and London, fewer than one in five startups is led by women.

What kind of environment allows women entrepreneurs to thrive?

Among the large ecosystems, the classic cities such as Stockholm, London or Berlin stand out. Things get interesting when it comes to small and medium-sized enterprises, where Vienna is clearly in the lead with 34 per cent of female founders among the medium ecosystems. Further east in Europe, Budapest takes the lead among small ecosystems. In this city 30 per cent of the entrepreneurs are female. After Budapest comes Sofia, where 25 per cent of entrepreneurs are female. In 2018, Budapest hosted the World Women’s Entrepreneurship Day to raise awareness and promote women-led businesses.

Vienna: a good place for female founders

Vienna leads the ranking of female founders in the statistics. Lisa-Marie Fassl, co-founder of the initiative Female Founders, explains with the fact that, on the one hand, Vienna has been ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world in recent years. It has a high standard of living compared to other European and even international cities. The city is safe for women and designed with women in mind. In terms of funding and capital, they have easy access to public funds and grants for early-stage businesses. This makes it attractive to start a business here.

The fact that Vienna has achieved this top spot is also due to initiatives like Female Founders. As one of the first all-female startup accelerators in Europe, its goal is to connect and inspire female entrepreneurs and organize funding activities. Much of the funding is geared toward women-led and early-stage innovative companies. Additionally, the Vienna Business Agency awards more funding when projects are led by women and the female perspective is taken into account.

Vienna and Female Founders are eager to share their positive experiences in the upcoming DEEP Startup Ecosystem Conference. Ecosystem builders and innovation managers will discuss female entrepreneurship initiatives, explore current funding opportunities and cooperate on new ecosystem projects.

Corona Pandemic as a brake block for female founders

Influenced by the Corona pandemic, awareness of female entrepreneurship has dropped. The number of female tech events such as conferences and meetups have dropped by 76 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. Conferences and Meetups are an important driver for visibility that are missing now. Accelerators play a big role and should be more responsive to female founders. Unfortunately, we see that fundraising for women-led startups is too slow and too low, especially in the early stages. The European business and entrepreneurship ecosystem is still far from being equal, diverse and inclusive.

Yes, many accelerators, funding calls and startup support programs try to target female founders. But there is a deep, structural imbalance against female founders that makes it difficult for them to succeed, even when they deliver the same quality of innovation and creativity as their peers.

In other words, there is a lot of catching up to do.

Not many women are in management positions, though diversity makes companies more successful

Women in management positions make companies more successful in the long term, confirms a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. They came to the conclusion that a 30 per cent higher share of women in the executive suite results in 15 per cent higher net sales.

In addition, women are more successful at minimizing risks and thus achieving sustainable success. But these are not the only attributes that speak for women as founders.

The French National Agency for Research shows that female owned Companies have a lower portfolio risk, fewer write-offs, lower credit loss provisions, with enhanced repayment of loans.

Can it get any better than this? I don’t think so!


To find out more about this topic, download the report on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe here: https://startupsandplaces.com/startup-heatmap-europe-report-on-women-entrepreneurs-in-europe/

Or take action and begin working with leading European ecosystems on female entrepreneurship support at the upcoming: https://www.startupheatmap.eu/conference.


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