Founded in 2016 in Vienna, Female Founders is an organisation tasked with addressing an acute problem in the European startup ecosystem.

The amount of funding – and cheque sizes – for female-led startups has long trailed behind those for male-led startups. This gap has been narrowing in recent years but still only at a very slow pace. This is not unique to Europe but, according to an analysis from LocalGlobe last year, Europe is lagging behind the US in efforts to close the gap.

Co-founder Nina Wöss said the organisation was born out of a desire to address the issue in Europe.

“We saw that [women] as a part of the tech ecosystem, when it comes to working with founders and investors, are always a minority, which is unfortunately also proven by statistics all over Europe,” she said.

“We wanted to connect with other women who were maybe a little bit more senior than we were and there was no organisational framework that enabled us to do that.”

Female Founders began life as a point for networking among female-led startups and gradually morphed into a support organisation that now runs an accelerator programme, Grow F, that helps get early stage startups investment ready.

It has partnered with big-name VC firms like Atomico, Creandum and Speedinvest. While those firms typically invest at the later stage, they bring their insight and know-how in getting investor-ready to these early stage startups that are just now beginning to navigate the rocky VC terrain for the first time.

Startups taking part in the programme must have an MVP ready to go but are at a crossroads on how to proceed.

“We want to help companies that are already out on the market to grow fast and actually get an investment,” Wöss said. “Usually it’s a first time founder that has not raised money from an institutional VC before, maybe it has raised some money from friends and family or maybe a business angel.”

To date, Female Founders has worked with 29 startups from 13 countries across several different sectors. Most recently one of its alumni, health tech outfit myBioma, closed a six-figure investment.

Next batch

Female Founders, which is government-funded, is opening the doors to its next batch of startups for the Grow F accelerator with an application deadline of this Friday, July 31.

It is doing so amid the coronavirus pandemic when many startups are staring into an uncertain future while events and networking, as we knew them, simply aren’t possible.

The digitally-held accelerator will take place in October, providing mentorship and pitch training over three months, culminating in a virtual demo day in January.

Lisa-Marie Fassl, Female Founders’ other co-founder, said the organisation has adjusted to the need for digital-only events during the global pandemic, facilitating digital meetings and talks, but it is still a challenge.

“Just seeing people face to face and getting this feeling for the mood of people, what they are dealing with, making this very personal connection … I wouldn't say it's missing, but it's of course easier to do it as an in-person thing, but with the right instruments, you can also handle this,” Fassl said.

The platform also assists its pan-European agenda, to invite startups from each corner of the continent.

“It’s pretty important for us because we decided as an organisation that our focus is on this ecosystem that we're building because we're strong believers in the European story,” Fassl added.

“This idea of really supporting female entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial minds [is important], from the first thought about this topic of entrepreneurship until hopefully the exit and then hopefully beyond that, when they start investing again and bringing their experience and money back to the ecosystem.”