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Meet the UK’s first VC firm dedicated to female founders

EXC: Pink Salt Ventures is welcoming Founders Factory's Saloni Bhojwani — and launching a new fund

By Isabel Woodford

Saloni Bhojwani and Samira Ann Qassim

If you’re a female founder, your odds of getting funding are… not ideal.

Just 1.1% of Europe’s venture deals this year went to all-women founding teams, according to Dealroom.

But a new wave of female founder-focused funds are now emerging in Europe, hoping to balance the scales.

Among them is London-based Pink Salt Ventures, the first fund in the UK dedicated to female entrepreneurs.

The micro VC, started in 2019 by Samira Ann Qassim, is preparing to launch its second fund next spring and has welcomed Saloni Bhojwani from Founders Factory as a cofounder. 

“We want to back the next generation of self-made female billionaires”

Subject to regulatory approval, the new fund will invest in a portfolio of 12 pre-seed and seed female-led companies* in the UK, across different sectors. It plans to write cheques of £350k on average for a 5-15% stake in each business, depending on whether it leads or not.

“We want to back the next generation of self-made female billionaires,” says Bhojwani.

Qassim adds that backing women isn’t just a moral calling, it’s a serious investment thesis.

“I started PSV not because of the funding gap, but because I was looking at these different macro trends of innovation that were really exciting. [I decided to] just invest in female founders because logically they’d be building in these kinds of areas.

“The intention was always to look for outsized returns, that’s what you’re doing as an investor.”

PSV has six existing female-led portfolio companies, including Juno Bio, a vaginal microbiome testing kit. Still, it’s been a small operation until now, with under £1m in assets and just a single LP.

“We’ve obviously experienced bias when pitching. I recently got introduced by someone as a ‘lovely girl'”

Bringing on Bhojwani to help scale the firm was a logical next step.

The duo first met two years ago and have already co-invested together in companies like MPowder, a menopause startup.

“I’ve been backing female founders for the last couple of years as an angel investor, and realised I wanted to make that the thesis of my own fund,” Bhojwani tells Sifted.

“Being able to work with someone [like Samira] with hustle and grit — but also that founders can easily relate to — is really important.”

Prior to working at Founders Factory, Bhojwani spent two years leading strategy at an early-stage startup, Zebra Fuel (backed by LocalGlobe and First Minute Capital), having previously worked at Deloitte. Both she and Qassim are founding members of Alma Angels, an angel network which supports female founders.

“The first of its kind”

Raising a first-time fund as two women hasn’t been straightforward, to say the least. Qassim says there’s still a tendency to be underestimated.

“We’ve obviously experienced bias when pitching. I recently got introduced by someone as a ‘lovely girl’. As a man, you’d never get introduced as a man as a ‘lovely boy,'” she says. “We also keep getting asked how old we are!”

It’s telling that no other female-focused VC yet exists. A hopeful contender, Voulez Capital, which was launched in 2018 by Anya Navidski, was known to be targeting a fresh $30m fund — but it is yet to close, Sifted heard.

One obstacle for these funds is that they can’t count the British Business Bank as an LP. That’s because the bank doesn’t make investments that “discriminate” based on gender or ethnicity.

Nonetheless, there are increasingly positive signals being made in Europe for female-funds.

Auxxo, Germany’s first venture fund focused on women, launched last month. More are in the works too, with the likes of Sie Ventures — a capital platform for female entrepreneurs — looking to institutionalise into a fund too (Bhojwani was also involved in its founding).

“There’s movement [now] towards ESG, and putting money to work to make the world a better place. It’s topical, and people understand it,” says Qassim.

Female-first funds

If you’re a female founder in Europe, it’s worth familiarising yourself with firms and investors that explicitly focus on women entrepreneurs.

These tend to be smaller and less active, but they have a clear thesis around the benefits of diversifying the flow of capital.

Other funds that are female-first and active in Europe include:

  • Merian Ventures — US/UK firm focused on women in deeptech.
  • Auxxo — $15m fund focused on women, based in Germany.
  • January Ventures (previously Jane VC) — US firm focused on women but also active in the UK.
  • Unconventional Ventures — Nordic early-stage firm focused on women and minorities.
  • WinEquity — New French fund for early-stage female founders.
  • The Better Fund — Upcoming Eastern European tech fund, currently in the process of raising €30m. It will be focused on early-stage, ESG-first startups with female founders or gender-balanced teams.
  • Borski fund — a Dutch €40m fund investing in female entrepreneurs or gender-first startups.
  • Astia — US firm focused on women-led startups with one GP in the UK.
  • The Helm — US early-stage venture firm backing women, with 15% of its $25m fund available for Europe.
  • Forerunner Ventures — US firm for women but has invested in the UK’s Thingtesting and Finland’s Oura.
  • Female Founders Fund — New York-based firm but has invested in the UK’s Peanut and Switzerland’s Fave.

*PSV define “female-led” to mean teams where the women hold an equal proportion of the founding equity. For instance, companies where women hold 20% of the founders’ shares would not qualify.

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Mary
Mary

Wow this is actual systemic sexism!