That women raise less money than men in tech is well established. But according to data obtained by Sifted, this disparity even extends to funding for femtech, one of the most female-dominated sectors in the start-up world.
Male femtech founders raised more money than their female counterparts in each of the last five years, according to data from PitchBook, despite the fact that more than 70% of femtech companies are founded by women.
Last year, 57 femtech companies with all-male founding teams raised $731m, while 105 femtechs with all female founding teams shared a total $408m.
And while fewer femtechs founded by men have raised capital since 2018 than those founded by women — 313 compared with 452 — male-founded femtech startups have traditionally raised significantly more money. On average, female-founded femtechs have raised $4.6m, compared to $9.2m by those with all-male teams.
This is despite the largest raise being completed by a female founder, Gina Bartasi, who raised $191m for Kindbody, a provider of health and fertility services.
Mixed-gender teams have raised $4.1m on average over the same period.
Only in 2023 have these numbers flipped: femtech companies founded by women raised $7.5m on average this year, versus $5.7m raised by men.
Top deals by male-founded companies include BillionToOne’s $125m raise and TMRW Life Sciences’ $110m deal. Some of the most well-known femtech companies, like Elvie and Flo, have male co-founders or founders.
BillionToOne is a precision diagnostics company in prenatal screening and liquid biopsy and TMRW Life Sciences is a fertility technology company.
Unlevelled playing field
Juliette Mauro and Delphine Moulu, co-founders of Femtech France, are not surprised by the figures.
It is startups that deal with fertility and cancer treatment that are raising the most money, and these are areas that male founders are more involved in. This is because men can usually relate easier to such topics as they might have had them in the family, or dealt with infertility issues themselves, Mauro says.
When raising capital and talking to VC investors, femtech founders unfortunately still get more attention when they are focused on subjects that male investors can connect to, according to Mauro. If their daughter was diagnosed with endometriosis or someone in their family had breast cancer, they are usually more likely to listen, she says.
For example, Paola Craveiro, the founder of Vulvae, which was working on addressing vulva pain, had immense difficulty raising capital, because nobody could see the market and the potential. Eventually, she had to call off the fundraise and Vulvae now operates as a non-profit.
When Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of Peanut, started raising capital, she was told that she would need to find herself a male co-founder.
She says that was a “stark wake-up call” and although many investors were supportive and believed in Peanut, she says there were instances where the underlying message suggested she would be more successful with a male counterpart by her side.
“Such perceptions are deeply rooted in biases that still persist in the investment world, implying that the mere presence of a male co-founder might lend more credibility or gravitas to a startup,” Kennedy says.
She says it’s discouraging to see all-female teams raise less than their all-male counterparts. And although she doesn’t find it inherently odd for men to be involved in femtech, it has to be marked by a commitment to allyship and understanding.
“While we've made strides in levelling the playing field for women in the tech world, these figures remind us that there's still a lot of work to do. It's not just about ensuring women have a seat at the table, but also that they're adequately funded to bring their ideas to life,” she comments.
Is there a bias against male founders, too?
Overall, venture capital continues to be male dominated. Only 16% of general partners are women, according to the most recent European Women in VC report, which can lead to unconscious biases, impacting the likelihood of a female founder receiving capital.
Indeed, a recent study by Sista and BCG found that female-founded startups in key European markets accounted for only 10% of companies created in 2022, 7% of fundraising processes and just 2% of funds raised.
When raising capital for Dana Health, a Spain-based maternal mental health app, co-founder Sven Mulfinger says he knew he needed a female CEO, eventually hiring Verónica Montesinos.
He says that while men undoubtedly raise more money — even in femtech — he also thinks that there is a bias against male founders in the femtech field.
“I’ve known that some men say they want to talk to a man and I’ve seen others that say it should be a woman because it’s femtech," he says.
One thing that Femtech France’s Mauro has noticed is that female founders get lumped together when it comes to startup funding, regardless of the type of company they set up.
That means that femtech businesses, which can require more money to spend on research and development, and have stricter regulatory hurdles to overcome, are pushed to request less money from investors.
She says there is still a need to convince femtech entrepreneurs that they need to be bold and ask for more money.
“But we also need to convince investors,” she adds. “In France we have a lot of money that can be invested by institutions into research and development, we need to convince them it’s not a niche, there is a huge market and it’s an industry we need to develop.”