When researching the startup ecosystem in Lithuania, one thing stuck out — the number of female-led startups.
Don't get too excited.
Let's be clear, women are predictably significantly underrepresented when we talk tech, especially when we talk startups and funding.
For example, in 2020 in Europe, only 800 women-founded startups received funding – barely 2% of the $300 billion in global capital funding.
Despite research commissioned and created by European Women in VC, Experior VC, and Unconventional Ventures – you'll recall Nora Bavey was a speaker at our recent summit — which found that in terms of capital productivity, women outperform men by as much as 96 percent in the CEE region.
But Lithuania is showing us that progress is possible. Take last year, where female founders were present in 28.5% of Lithuanian funding rounds compared to a mere 20.3% in Germany.
Furthermore, research by Pitchfork found that Lithuania leads Europe as the country with the highest percentage of VC deals involving female founders since 2017.
A recent survey by Startup Lithuania approximately 38 percent of the country’s startups have at least one female co-founder. Furthermore, women account for up to half of the team in 63 percent of startups, and over half in percent.
Why so many women?
Yes, I know, it's not that many.
But one of the reasons is that Lithuania has the highest number of female scientists and engineers in Europe (58 percent).
Compare this to the US and Australia, where women comprise only 28 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
It's not surprising when you consider Lithuania is home to more than 30 institutions of higher education and enjoys a lower cost of living, making study more accessible. Women have access to free or low-cost higher education. Furthermore, childcare is better subsidised, which benefits women during their careers.
Access to higher education is increasingly relevant considering the number of startups (especially in the deep tech space) spun out of academia, so an education population is a great accelerator.
I could probably share some more stats, but I suspect your eyes might be starting to glaze over.
So here are some rather excellent women-led companies and initiatives changing Lithuania (and Europe) for the better. These are startups with great products but also great leadership:
Startups you should know about
Openface is a AI-first SaaS product for skincare. It analyses your skin type to offer personalised skincare serums. The company founded by Kris Farber, Dina Berezina and Natalya Martynova, is offering a pioneering AI-first SaaS product for skincare.
Pet food is one of the most popular niches in pet tech startups. ZENOO was the brainchild of pet parent CEO and co-founder Agota Jakutyte in response to the challenge of caring for her sick pup. The company offers freeze-dried raw food and supplements via a subscription service.
Walk15 is a sustainable activity platform offering steps challenges for enterprises to encourage people to walk more and use cars less. The gamification app helps organisations to solve the problem of low employee involvement in physical activity and the lack of education about sustainability. The app converts steps into rewards, such as trees that can later be planted in real life.
Led by CEO and founder Vlada Musvydaite, the company has raised €1.6 million in funding over six rounds.
Cogastro is an IoT-connected insect farm management platform that is customisable to the needs of different farms. It enables farmers to track insect age, stages, cycle speed, reproduction rates, feed types and periodicity, density, collecting temperature, humidity, CO2, and more. These metrics impact feed conversion, hatch rate, space usage, and nutritional value and, when optimised, lead to higher revenue.
Led by CEO Mante Sidlauskaite, Congasto has raised €780K over three rounds.
Founded by Simona Vasyte-Kudakauske and Kestutis Tauckela, Perfection42 develops artificial intelligence capabilities for automating the creation of 2D and 3D computer graphics. This helps creators unleash their creative potential by removing dull technical and repetitive tasks.
Established in 2011, CGTrader is one of the leading 3D model marketplaces globally, with over 1,630,000 3D models for computer graphics, virtual/augmented reality and gaming, backed by a strong professional designer community.
On CGTrader, over 7,250,000 3D artists, design studios and businesses worldwide share and sell their 3D models.CEO Dalia Lašaitė-Kamantauskė co-founded the company.
Women empowering women
Women-led innovation is not limited to those founding startups. Lithuania enjoys women in a variety of leadership roles in tech. Lina Zemaityte-Kirkman heads up the fintech accelerator of Rockit Vilnius (stay tuned for an interview next week) and Roberta Rudokienė is the head of Startup Lithuania.
Furthermore, Women Go Tech, Lithuania's first women's mentoring program, has empowered women since 2016. The program has attracted hundreds of women and aims to assist 25,000 women, in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region, in requalifying for careers in technology by 2024.
We also know that personal networks are everything in tech. For example, homophily networks suggest that people with similar characteristics, such as gender or education, tend to consciously or unconsciously group themselves to create an environment of trust.
In investing, there is a preference to commit capital to founders of a similar background to the investors, such as people who went to the same university.
While female investors are still vastly underrepresented, things are changing. Naming just a few, Viktorija Vaithevičienė serves as the CEO of Coinvest Capital and Greta Monstavičė is the CEO of Katalista Ventures, offering investment, advisory services, and a startup and scaleup accelerator.
And to create a new generation of female investors, Baltic Sandbox hosts an educational program called "Women Investing In Tech," specifically tailored for prospective business angel investors.
Change is coming and fast.
Lead image: Dovile Ramoskaite