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Giving Power Back to Female Founders

Everyone deserves a level-playing field for expressing their genius.

The world is biased when it comes to gender. Our society is haunted by a patriarchal legacy that limits our openness and creativity. Ultimately this affects everyone, but firsthand, women. One example is the challenges women face in business. They hold fewer high positions, receive less trust, and earn less money. One of the outcomes is the limited potential for women to grow as startup leaders.

This inequality is deeply unfair, overcoming these issues will make the world a better place. Moreover, certain strengths are more common among women.

At Joint Journey, we believe everyone deserves equal chances, and we are always happy to support good projects, and no matter what gender, nationality and race are the founders. Our portfolio already includes female-led companies, and we cultivate a culture and processes that help us overcome our biases.

Victoria and I met on one of the investing panels and I really liked the way she talked about gender  issues. Because we have many startups led by female founders in our portfolio, I wanted to connect with her and discuss in more detail what else we can do to support them.

We prepared this blog to raise awareness about the reasons for the gender funding gap, the PowerUp program that can very effectively address them, and encourage more investors to start investing in female founders not because it is charity, but because those deals will make you money.  Please welcome Victoria, a strategic CFO, startup advisor, and founder of The Startup Station. She teaches at the Bank of America Institute of Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell, training 500 students online every month. Additionally, she runs PowerUp, a unique program that empowers female founders and entrepreneurs. This program aims to reduce inequality, promote social diversity in management, and create more sustainable, resilient businesses and communities worldwide. It addresses critical gaps in strategic planning, financial management, sales, fundraising, and hiring strategies. But most importantly, it tackles the gaps and challenges specific to female leaders.

I asked Victoria to share her thoughts on the challenges female founders face today. As a visionary and advocate for female leaders, she has a unique vision, ambition, and firsthand experience with these issues. In this article, I will present her insights.

Gender Inequality in Venture Investment

It is well-known that despite progress in recent years, the gender pay gap still exists, and women are often offered fewer opportunities for advancement than their male peers. This fact from each woman's personal life also extends to the VC investment industry.

For instance, in the US, from 2013 to 2022, the share of VC deal count for startups led by all-female founders grew from 4.0% to 6.4%, but it didn't grow in VC deal value (2.7% to 2.0%), resulting in a decrease in the average funding per startup. This situation definitely needs fixing, and to address it, we need to outline the biggest challenges that female founders face due to centuries of unequal treatment and societal conditioning in a patriarchal society and then suggest a successful way forward.

  • Underrepresentation in male-dominated industries: Female founders in industries such as technology and finance struggle to break through barriers and establish credibility. As a venture fund, Joint Journey is committed to supporting female-led startups to overcome this issue.
  • Gender-based higher-risk bias, or the trust gap: This common misconception suggests that female entrepreneurs are less reliable and less ambitious than male entrepreneurs. Concerns about female leaders becoming pregnant, losing focus on the business, failing to handle personal obligations, being too risk averse in their decision making contribute to the perception of higher risk associated with female founders. This attitude hinders progress for women as entrepreneurs, affects their self-esteem, and leads to missed opportunities, lack of investment, or being overlooked for partnerships.
  • Limited access to funding and networking gap: Women entrepreneurs don’t have the same level of access to investors and the VC community as male founders, especially when in emerging markets. Even in the US and Europe, this can be an issue. But in Africa, the Near East, and Latin America, women simply are not part of that community. From the investor's perspective, the gap is also present: even if you want to invest in female-led ventures, you are not always sure where to find quality candidates.
  • Lack of mentorship: Female entrepreneurs don’t actively pursue opportunities to connect with experienced mentors or network with influential people in the industry and don’t ask for help. This limits their ability to learn from others and build valuable relationships that could support business growth and move it forward fast.
  • Confidence gap: This pervasive issue affects women's perception of their own abilities. Due to societal biases, women don’t think it is possible to even try to  achieve ambitious goals or go after the same amount of capital as male founders do. They also feel more pressure than their male counterparts not to make a mistake l. Many girls are raised to be peacemakers and caretakers and are taught to listen to men or to wait for men to take initiative. For example, in numerous fairy tales, a princess waits for a prince to kill the dragon and rescue her from the tower. In business, assertiveness and proactivity are essential. Yet, these qualities are still often labeled as "masculine," making it harder for women to recognize their natural access to these traits.
  • Perfectionism: This quality is detrimental to women in executive positions. Women are perfectionists more often than men. They do not feel confident presenting a result until they are very sure. In my experience working with early-stage companies, men typically respond to initial assessment questionnaires in 2-3 weeks, while for some women it took as long as 3 months. At the same time, women often provide much more information than I ever got from a male founder. And it is usually coated with disclaimers that the data is preliminary and that details are yet to be refined. A desire to ground position in research is a way to compensate for the lack of self-confidence. Simply put, women challenge themselves even without others challenging them. And this attitude translates to business and poisons the way women make decisions, evaluate opportunities, hire people, face challenges.
  • Delegation challenges: Another issue affecting women in business is the tendency to do everything themselves, which is connected to perfectionism. Conditioned as "housekeepers," their role models are multitaskers. However, that's not how you build a business; nobody brings a ship to the harbor by themselves. I see many women entrepreneurs doing tasks they should not be doing in a company, especially as it reaches a certain stage of scaling. Women often struggle with delegating, trusting others, and letting go of control more than men. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, anxious, not being able to focus on growth, and distracted by operations.
  • Lack of diverse role models: A shortage of visible female role models makes it harder for aspiring female founders to envision themselves as successful entrepreneurs. This contributes to self-doubt and discourages some from pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

Unique Superpowers of Female Founders

Women possess unique strengths and "superpowers." Perhaps in the future, as humanity becomes free from biases, these qualities will no longer be associated with specific genders. However, today, partly due to imposed gender role models, females tend to have a higher emotional quotient (EQ) and excel at building motivated and cohesive teams.

This skill is essential for businesses because if people were only motivated by money, no one would ever work in a non-profit. Women, in particular, have a natural ability to create cohesive teams and inspire individuals to achieve big things and reap big rewards. Empowering female founders to succeed in a male-dominated world while retaining their unique abilities is a priority. While efforts are being made to overcome gender-based inequalities, it's important to recognize and utilize these evident strengths for the benefit of both businesses and society.

Female-led Startups in Joint Journey Portfolio

Joint Journey is committed to supporting female-led projects. 18% of the startups in our portfolio are led by female founders or mixed-gender founder teams:

  • Castingform - A marketplace serving 2,500 creators from more than 100 countries and working to democratize the casting process. Provides actors with equal opportunities to be noticed and commissioned for projects.

  • CopyMonkey - A platform with artificial intelligence technology that allows you to create unique product descriptions. Analyzes existing descriptions and suggests improvements, as well as provides the ability to automatically conduct A/B testing of descriptions and determine what best suits your audience.

  • DigiDoe - Fast, affordable and secure payment infrastructure for banks, businesses and customers. Eliminates fraud while charging the lowest commissions on the market.

  • Immigram - Immigrant-friendly end-to-end global mobility platform

  • Incymo - An ML-based company that helps increase the profitability of any free-to-play video games. For big and well optimized games, we use customized machine learning models trained on a specific genre to personalize in-game offers and get the maximum result.

  • Inspace - Workplace management platform for hybrid offices, UX for job search and booking. The application allows you to find colleagues throughout the office, giving them the freedom to choose a workplace and cooperate with the person they want.

  • Lifemost - One app where you can find every type of activity nearby for you and your family: studio, gym, salon or spa you want, as many times as you want.

  • Lucky Carrot - The global ‘informal currency’ for remote/hybrid teams and professionals to recognize one another.

  • Masthead - Data Observability without data access. See the impact of data issues without running SQL. We analyze your logs and metadata to identify freshness and volumes anomalies, schema changes in tables, pipeline errors, and their blast radius effects on your business.

  • MetroSpeedy - A leading local delivery company that provides services on request, on the same day or on a schedule. A dedicated team ensures efficient delivery of parcels or small, medium and large-sized goods for companies in dense urban areas. Metrospeedy delivers goods on cars, motorcycles or "SPEEDY" - eco-friendly branded bicycles with auxiliary pedals.

  • Moodbit - An artificial intelligence-based solution for managing employee experience. Performs real-time analytics of action plan.

  • PitchMe - A unique talent platform for hiring. The SmartMe profile offers a new framework for digital identification of the candidate. Pitch Me analyzes a number of digital sources, creates a complete picture of hard and soft skills and a psychometric profile and gives advice on how to improve the employment process to meet emerging market needs.

  • Renova - No-code platform for insurance industry.

  • Sarafan - An international IT company engaged in artificial intelligence technologies at the junction of AI-tech, Fashion-tech and AD-tech. Publishers get the opportunity to monetize their content using links to e-commerce sites where you can buy a specific product.

  • Sizze - Figma Design to React Native Code Sizze helps simplify development for teams of any size, niche, and skill level.

  • Welltory - A health and fitness app that uses smartphone or Apple Watch camera data to perform in-depth body diagnostics. It allows you to synchronize data from other apps and gadgets to get more information, provides daily health indicators, workout analytics, and blood pressure interpretation.

  • Whizz - Rental services by subscription. Last mile delivery. Payment only during use.

  • Tripsider - A marketplace for multi-day tours with travel experts. Save time and money by joining unique trips.

  • Deriskly - Artificial Intelligence for Financial Compliance. Compliance simplified, confidence amplified - AI for the FCA's Consumer Duty.

  • Loanbase - A platform for financing your commercial property. Brings simplicity and transparency to commercial lending.

  • ChiliPiper - A solution to qualify and turn leads into meetings, instantly.

  • Simpleem - Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI) designed to apply AI for humanizing interactions and leverage behavior for success. Convert video meetings into deals using interaction analysis insights.
Apart from adding female-led startups, we at Joint Journey maintain good relations with other female-led companies. My friend, Anna Sholina, is a JJ partner and the CEO of Joint Journey partner Solyanka, a business communications agency focusing on tech, startups and VC.

Whether by chance or not, their team consists solely of girls. I asked Anna about her view on how gender inequality projects into business. And I want to finish this article with her words:
“In my team, we have a strong trust in the female approach to business. Females are responsible and capable of multitasking, they can achieve outstanding results and see things through to completion.

Today, even in Western cultures, it is harder for girls to advance. They are raised differently. In school years they surpass boys in intellect, but they are more likely to doubt their own capability to grasp complicated concepts, in science, technology, arts. Then, a girl needs to allocate time for starting a family and giving birth. This is another big reason why girls are less involved in business. They have to make this hard choice. But proper goal-setting and persistence will let you get over this.

Women have reasons to unite, especially considering these common issues they have to challenge. Women are great active communicators, which forms an excellent foundation for professional friendships and helping each other, which greatly benefits their businesses.”

We are truly pleased to be supporting female teams and we encourage our VCS to join us.
We also would like to highlight the Power Up program Victoria is running to bridge the gender funding gap worldwide by reducing execution risk, helping ventures scale after raising their first round and stimulating the inflow of capital into the startup ecosystem.
Here is the link: https://thestartupstation.com/p/powerup.