According to our recent report, in partnership with J.P. Morgan Private Bank, female-powered businesses, like their peers, raised a record amount of venture capital in 2020, securing a combined £2.3b in equity investment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But they also saw a steeper decline in deal numbers than that of the overall high-growth population.
Yet the UK is home to a long list of successful entrepreneurs that are women. Overcoming the odds, these business leaders have launched ambitious companies across a range of sectors, from femtech to fintech, with Anne Boden’s Starling Bank ranking as the fastest-growing female-powered company in the UK.
‘Female-powered’ in this report refers to fast-growing businesses which are founded or led by women, or have management teams that are made up of at least 50% women, as opposed to female founders or business owners alone. These companies represent around 20% of the high-growth population, with 6,085 ambitious female-powered businesses currently operating in the UK.
Our data indicates that London is home to the largest population of these companies, accounting for 37% of female-powered businesses in the UK. Scotland, meanwhile, has the greatest proportion of them, as female-powered companies represent 22% of all active, high-growth firms in the region.
But which industries are most popular for female entrepreneurship? We take a look at 12 of the UK’s top sectors for female entrepreneurs and women in leadership, and handpick some of the impressive businesses disrupting these spaces in 2021.
Most common sectors for female entrepreneurs: by number
The top sector for female-powered businesses in the UK, by number of companies, is Business and Professional Services, with 2,245 businesses. Next is Technology and IP-based companies, with 1,815, and then Industrials, with 1,771. These top three industries are in keeping with wider trends in the country’s high-growth space, and include successful businesses in a broad range of verticals, from payment processing and legal services to medtech and automotive.
Business & Professional Services
BW Legal is a high-growth legal services firm, headquartered in Leeds. Founded in 2009, BW Legal focuses on the debt recovery industry, specialising in consumer and commercial debt collection at all stages, including litigation. In 2019, the firm was named as one of 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain by the London Stock Exchange.
In February 2019, BW Legal underwent an MBO, backed by Shard Credit Partners, by its female COO and Co-Founder Rachael Withers. The firm ranked third, overall, on the Top 200 Female-Powered Business list, having grown its headcount from 92 to 256, and turnover from £4.9m to £13.9m, between 2016 and 2019.
Technology & IP-based
CoMind is a London-based software startup, developing non-invasive neural interfaces that allow computers to react to human thoughts. Its aim is to change how humans interact with technology, whilst improving our understanding of the human brain and neurological disorders. CoMind’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer is ex-VC, and LSE and Cambridge Judge Business School graduate, Christina Franzaskides.
Since being founded in December 2018, CoMind has already secured three rounds of equity funding. The latest of these was raised in April this year, worth £7.5m, at a pre-money valuation of £17.2m. Total investment raised by the company amounts to £11m. It came in seventh place for valuation growth amongst the UK’s leading female-powered businesses, at a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 900%, between 2016 and 2019.
Established in 2006, Scrapco Metal Recycling provides a range of recycling and skip services, specialising in vehicle and scrap metal collection, purchasing, and processing. The company was co-founded by businesswoman Karen Frost, and is based in Erith (Bexley).
In 2020, Scrapco Metal Recycling was also named on the London Stock Exchange Group’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain, a list of the UK’s fastest-growing SMEs. Between 2016 and 2019, it saw turnover growth of 85% and grew its headcount by 93%. This saw it rank ninth, overall, on the Top 200 Female-Powered Business list.
Most common sectors for female entrepreneurs: as a proportion of the high-growth population
Whilst the most common sectors for female-powered businesses are the same as that of the general high-growth population, looking at the proportion of companies founded, led, or managed by women within each industry tells a very different story.
Of all top-level sectors, Craft Industries has the highest proportion (42%) of female-powered businesses, despite there currently being just 294 of these companies, compared to 2,245 in Business and Professional Services. Meanwhile, ranking second for most common sectors, proportionally, is the Personal Services industry, in which female-powered businesses make up 33% of high-growth companies, followed by Leisure and Entertainment, at 24%.
Astrid & Miyu
Astrid & Miyu is a London-based jewellery brand, focused on individuality, diversity, accessibility, and female empowerment. Founded in 2011, Astrid & Miyu has so far raised £1.86m in equity funding, across three rounds. Investors include London Business Angels, Newable Ventures, the London Co-Investment Fund, and German jewellery-focused firm Aeternum Holding. It was also listed on The Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list in 2020.
The company’s Founder and CEO, Connie Nam, is a former Credit Suisse analyst, and has an MBA from London Business School. Alongside its female founder, Astrid & Miyu also has women in its Head of Finance, People, Marketing, Product & Operations, and International Expansion roles. Between 2016 and 2019, it was the third-fastest-growing company powered by women in the UK, by growth in headcount, with a three-year CAGR of 71.9%.
Founded in 2014, Hatching Dragons operates a chain of Mandarin-English bilingual nurseries in London, alongside an online preschool and holiday camps, providing early years education and childcare. The company’s female leadership team consists of Jessica Rossi, Non-Executive Director and Board Member, Jing Li, Educational Services Manager, and Philippa Dodds, Pedagogy Director.
To date, Hatching Dragons has secured eight rounds of equity investment, totalling £1.84m. Most recently, it raised a £165k funding round in July 2020, at which point the company had a pre-money valuation of £3.54m.
Leisure & Entertainment
DAYMADE (formerly TripHunters) is an online prize platform, targeted at Millennials and Gen Z. Through its subscription-based service and weekly draw on social media, players can win all-inclusive holidays and local experiences, tech gadgets, skincare and wellness bundles, and other lifestyle products. The early-stage company is currently operating as a team of six people, including DAYMADE’s female Co-Founder, Director and Head of Operations & Marketing, Lisa Nederveen.
Founded in November 2019, the Islington-based startup has already raised £875k in equity investment, across three funding rounds. The most recent of these rounds was secured in May this year, and totalled £500k, at a pre-money valuation of £4.5m. DAYMADE placed second for growth in valuation on the list of top female-powered businesses, with an impressive three-year CAGR of 5,006%, between 2016 and 2019.
Best-funded verticals for female entrepreneurs: by equity investment
This proportional analysis implies that female-powered businesses are less likely to succeed in certain industries than their peers. This may be down to social norms, gender discrimination, or disparities in access to finance in those sectors (or a combination of them all). So, which industries see female leadership and management teams secure the most funding?
Focusing specifically on equity investment, the most popular method of growth for ambitious companies in the UK, female-powered companies in the Internet Platforms space secured the greatest number of deals last year, with 866 funding rounds. Other well-funded areas include Mobile Apps, with 831 deals completed by female-powered startups and scaleups in 2020, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), with 798. By volume alone, therefore, equity finance for female-powered businesses in the UK is predominantly funneled into tech verticals.
London-based Piclo develops software to stimulate innovation and investment in decentralised energy. It operates a peer-to-peer renewable energy marketplace, allowing producers to sell electricity directly to local customers via its platform. Piclo’s mission is to deliver user-focused solutions to the energy trilemma: how to make electricity cheap, clean, and abundant. Between 2016 and 2019, it saw the fourth-greatest growth in turnover of female-powered companies in the UK, with a three-year CAGR of 66.9%.
Since incorporating in early 2013, the company has secured £7.1m in equity fundraising, across seven rounds. Its investors include Clean Growth Fund, Mott MacDonald Digital Ventures, Green Angel Syndicate, and Bethnal Green Ventures. Piclo has also been awarded six large innovation grants so far, worth an additional £1.7m, and been selected to attend four different accelerator programmes. The company was co-founded by female entrepreneur and Chief Product Officer Alice Tyler.
Fast-growing fintech gohenry has developed a money management app for children—it provides kids with prepaid (and customisable) debit cards that are linked to their parents’ accounts, and allows transactions to be monitored online. The company was founded by a group of parents who wanted to end cash pocket money payments, and help kids prepare for the digital economy, by giving them a safe space to learn financial skills, with no debt or overdrafts, and the option for parents to help out if needed.
Having launched in 2012, gohenry now has over 1m users in the UK and US. The company has been listed on Fast Track’s Tech Track 100 for the past three years running, and has secured an impressive £47m in equity investment, across 11 rounds. It’s also currently attending Tech Nation’s two-year Future Fifty accelerator programme for late-stage tech businesses. gohenry’s female leadership team includes Co-Founder and COO Louise Hill, CFO Cecile Marret (former COO-CFO at fellow female-powered business Elvie), and Head of Customer Operations Ruth Vero.
PensionBee has developed software that allows users to group multiple pensions into one new plan, which they can then track and manage online. Founded in 2014, the London-based pension provider is now used by more than 475k people, having grown its headcount by more than 500% between 2016 and 2019—it ranked in second place amongst the top female-powered companies, by growth in headcount, and fourth place overall. In April 2021, PensionBee listed on the London Stock Exchange, raising £49m. Prior to the company’s IPO, it had secured £40.1m in equity investment, through eight funding rounds, and had been named on multiple high-growth lists, including the FinTech50.
PensionBee’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Romina Savova, set up the company after completing her MBA at Harvard Business School. It also has women in several of its senior leadership positions, including Chief Operating Officer, Head of Software Delivery, Head of Talent, Head of Brand & Communications, and Chief Corporate Officer. Savova has said: “I’m immensely proud of the level of diversity we’ve achieved within PensionBee. Half of our team consists of women and around a third self-identify as a minority ethnicity, statistics that are sadly unheard of in our industry.”
Best-funded verticals for female entrepreneurs: as a proportion of all deals secured
Once again, when examining deal numbers as a proportion, we get a very different result. For instance, female-powered businesses secured just 21% of fundraisings into high-growth internet platforms in 2020. And they raised 19% and 12% of investments into mobile apps and SaaS products, respectively. In comparison, they secured 57% of deals in the UK’s high-growth Fashion space (a subset of the Craft Industries sector).
Other key verticals in which female-powered businesses secured a large proportion of fundraisings last year include Healthcare Products (within Industrials), with 34% of deals, and E-commerce (within Retail), with 30% of deals. These data points suggest there are certain business areas in which women entrepreneurs and management teams are more successful at raising capital than in others.
Founded in 2005, Bluebella is a lingerie, loungewear, and nightwear brand, created by CEO Emily Bendell. The company’s ethos focuses on empowering women through its modern take on sensuality. Alongside Oxford PPE graduate Bendell, Bluebella’s leadership team comprises several other women, including the company’s Finance Director, Louise Gunning, and its Head of Merchandising, Lorna Simpson.
The high-growth fashion label ranked second overall on the Top 200 Female-Powered Business list—between 2016 and 2019, it grew from 10 employees, and £1.6m in turnover, to 23 employees, with turnover of £8.7m. Listed on the Fast Track 100 in 2020, Bluebella has so far raised eight equity fundraisings, amounting to £2.27m. Investors include Crowdcube, FSE Group’s Incito Ventures and South East Seed Fund, and female angel group Addidi Angels (now part of Progeny).
Verso Biosense (formerly VivoPlex) is an innovative femtech company that aims to transform fertility treatment through precision medicine. Based in the Milton Park science and business hub in Oxfordshire, VivoPlex is developing wearable technology that monitors oxygen levels, pH, and temperature in the uterus. The company hopes to use these biometric sensors to help diagnose uterine dysfunction and optimise treatments, thus significantly improving reproductive outcomes.
Spun out of the University of Southampton in 2009, Verso Biosense was co-founded by Dr Ying Cheong, an Associate Professor and Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University. She is joined by female entrepreneur Joanna Smart, the company’s former COO and CEO, now Non-Executive Director. Verso Biosense has raised six rounds of equity funding, including participation from the Future Fund, the Government’s co-investment scheme to support small businesses during the pandemic. It’s also received two large innovation grants—the most recent of which was a £48.6k award from Innovate UK to adapt the company’s medical devices for use in the cattle industry.
FLOWERBX operates an online florist, delivering either individual orders or on a subscription basis. The company sources its flowers directly from the grower, avoiding waste, reducing costs, and ensuring they’re fresher than those available in shops or markets. It also offers same day delivery in London. Founded in 2014, FLOWERBX is currently based in Ealing, West London.
Since launching, the company has raised £10.1m in equity investment, across seven separate funding rounds. Its most recent £2.35m round, secured in July 2020, saw the business valued at £13.6m, pre-money. FLOWERBX was co-founded by female CEO Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, a graduate from Columbia University in New York, and former Senior VP of Communications at TOM FORD.
To see the full list of the UK’s Top 200 Female-Powered Businesses, alongside an in-depth sectoral analysis, take a look at the report here. It includes insights on regional distribution, growth methods, supporting institutions, and investment trends, plus interviews with some of the most successful women in the UK’s high-growth space, discussing their own business and entrepreneurial journeys.
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