We're Megan Todd (FI Head of Global Admissions) and Rachel Sheppard (FI Global Marketing Manager), the creators of the Female Founder Initiative. We're two women who noticed the lack of gender equality throughout startup programs around the world, including at the Founder Institute, and decided to do something about it.
Founder Institute is the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator, and creates more early-stage companies than any other startup program worldwide, and while Founder Institute has helped 4,000 companies launch, less than 40% have been women-led.
With the creation of the Female Founder Initiative we aim to change the ratio of female founders in the 65+ countries where Founder Institute operates.
Our goal is to have a lasting impact on global inclusion for women. By 2020, we aim for female-founded companies to comprise 40% of our annual portfolio.
By providing women founders with a diverse group of resources and opportunities to start and grow their companies, we enable a future with more women venture capitalists and startup ecosystem leaders, we believe this will positively impact the gender gap in startups, global technology, and venture capital.
In 2011, the Founder Institute introduced the Female Founder Fellowship for top female applicants to boost the number of women launching technology startups. This fellowship program led to an immediate 60%+ boost in women-founded portfolio companies, but leveled off in the following years.
The Female Founder Initiative was formed in 2016 with the goal of leveraging the Founder Institute’s scope (180+ cities, 65+ countries) to make the global technology sector more gender-balanced.
We measure success based on the diversity of the founder or co-founder.
Many accelerators measure their diversity and inclusion efforts based on having a woman on the leadership team. In contrast, we continue to measure the Female Founder Initiative’s progress, and eventual success, based on how many portfolio companies identify their founder or co-founder as a woman.
This philosophy aligns with how we have measured success to date, and keeps us focused on our original mission, which is to provide women with opportunities to create successful companies as a part of the founding team and as individual founders.
A Multi-Pronged Approach
Since launching the Female Founder Initiative in 2016, our goals have grown, and become more specific, as we continue to learn and respond to the needs of women founders in our community. However, our original approach and strategy still holds true and maintains key tactics we believe have led to our current success and will help us in the future.
- Provide a scholarship for top female applicants to every Founder Institute Chapter across the globe.
- Increase the number of female mentors and local leaders in the Founder Institute programs.
- Host female entrepreneurship-focused events around the world.
- Form partnerships with women-focused organizations all across the globe.
- Improve our program to address the unique problems women face in entrepreneurship.
Our Global Impact: Results To Date
After the initial Female Founder Fellowship announcement in 2011, the number of women-founded companies completing our program spiked and then normalized to a 19% annual ratio.
After hosting more than 20 Female Founder focused events worldwide in 2016 and 2017, we saw the number of women-founded portfolio companies from the Founder Institute increase by 50% Year-over-Year from 2016 to 2017. In 2018; 31% of the companies we produced globally were women-founded, and 38% of the companies we produced in the U.S. were women-founded. At this current rate, 36% of the companies we produce in 2020 will be women-founded, and we are on track to exceed 40% in our three largest markets (U.S., Canada, and Brazil).
2018 A Year In Transition: What We Learned
Women are more likely to be accepted to Founder Institute and to complete the program.
Women who applied to the Founder Institute program were 10% more likely to be accepted and 8% more likely to complete the program than their male counterparts, due to higher qualifications. In 2018:
- Women accounted for 19% of our total applicants, but 29% of total accepted founders.
- Women accounted for 23% of our enrolled founders, and 31% of total portfolio companies.
In 2019 we’ve focused on improving our digital outreach to women founders and continue to scale our support for women in the idea and early stages. We’ve shifted our focus from hosting events to providing actionable help through the website in the form of 1-1 calls, pitch deck feedback, resource recommendations, and access to investors.
Regional Impact: Numbers In Our Key Markets
The U.S., Canada, and Brazil play a large role in the Female Founder Initiative's success.
Founder Institute operates 40+ programs per year in our top 3 markets (U.S, Canada, & Brazil). Because these regions represent a large portion of our global metrics, we need to reach a 40% female-founded portfolio ratio average in these locations. Based on the admissions data from 2018, we are on track if we continue to grow Founder Institute’s presence and support for female founders in these markets.
City Impact: Around the World
Top Cities for Founder Initiative Female-Founded Portfolio Companies
While our top 3 markets will be integral in helping us meet our 2020 goals, we are still committed to helping women founders everywhere grow their early-stage startups. As highlighted in Forbes, below are some of the top cities with a 50% or higher female-founder ratio since we launched our initiative in 2016.
How We're Reaching Our 2020 Goal
- Strategic Partnerships - Technical Co-Founders are in high demand worldwide, and can help startups release market innovations. Therefore, we are seeking to partner with technical women’s organizations to provide women with more opportunities to become co-founders of exciting new startups.
- Funding - Funding remains the biggest challenge for female founders, including in our portfolio. Only 2.2% of VC funding in 2018 went to women founders. Therefore, we’ve added resources to help women founders get in front of investors.
- Collaboration - Growth accelerates when collaboration is win-win. Therefore, we’ve implemented tools to provide scalable opportunities for women to work together and learn from one another.
- Leadership - Our statistics show that higher female mentor and director participation leads to better performing women-founded portfolio companies in our program.
- Scalability - Beyond our key markets, we want to help as many women as possible. Therefore, we’ve added scalable action items on our landing page to help any woman founder looking for feedback.
How You Can Get Involved
We are looking for founders, partners, mentors, local leaders, and investors to help us create the largest generation of Female Founders, minimizing the gender gap in global technology. If you are interested, or know other leaders who are, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.femalefounderintiative.com
See the Full Report Presentation
Graduates of the Founder Institute are creating some of the world's fastest growing startups, having raised over $900M in funding, and building products people love across over 185 cities worldwide.
See the most recent news from our Grads at FI.co/news, or learn more about their stories at FI.co/journey.