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The “invisible” female entrepreneurs bring visible value to the CEE ecosystem

The “invisible” female entrepreneurs bring visible value to the CEE ecosystem,
Image credit: ©Shutterstock

Gender-balanced teams and those with female presence in all fronts in the ecosystem – from founders to private equity investors, unquestionably lead to more diversified portfolios, accelerated innovation, and a more united entrepreneurial community as a whole. At the end of the most female month of the year, the community of European Women in VC and the first European female-founded and managed venture capital firm Experior VC, together with the Nordic Unconventional Ventures released the report “Funding in the CEE region – through the lens of gender diversity and impact” in which they gave a data-based perspective on the fundraising and investment state of female entrepreneurship in the CEE. By analyzing the startup and scaleups datasets of Dealroom, the performance data of successful Slush startups, and the different equity entities featured in the Invest Europe Yearbook Universe, the report highlighted the underrepresentation of women in tech across the communities of investors and VCs as well as in European companies.  

Better performance with fewer investments and industries 

The report reveals that during the last year, female-founded startups raised only 1% of the total investments made in the CEE and 5% went to mixed-gender teams, while for the whole period 2016-2020 female teams have received on average 2% of the total €2.47B investments. Moreover, investors give more sum per investment for men and the average seed and Series A round sizes for female-led startups are ambler than these for all-men and mixed startup teams. Despite this, however, data shows that female startups have 96% more capital productivity than male-led startups and thus generating more value per every euro invested. 

A possible factor behind the trend of female-led companies receiving fewer funds is that 85% of all VC investment management positions and 93% of all Managing Partner roles are occupied by men. Moreover, by surveying 70 funds that invest in the CEE region, the architect reports have discovered that 92% of the General Partners rarely receive inquiries about the gender diversity and inclusion practices of their fund when they fundraise from Limited Partners. 

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Insights from the SEE female leaders 

When looking into the SEE region in comparison to CEE, a bigger proportion of all capital has been raised by female-led and mixed startup teams than in the other regions. Featuring some of the most significant shapers of the regional female startup ecosystem, the report also gives some qualitative insight into the state of gender equality in the SEE. Elina Halatcheva, Managing Partner at BrightCap Ventures, highlights that Bulgaria enjoys high levels of gender equality in business and tech as currently, 53% of all scientists and engineers and 49% of all managers are women. According to her, female founders are organized multitaskers who are highly empathetic and this helps them to create new solutions, which male entrepreneurs would not have thought of. She makes reference to products that specifically address the needs of women such as FemCare startup that produces pain-relieving tampons Daye and the sustainable fashion brand BY FAR. Similarly, the Vice President of The European Investment Bank, Lilyana Pavlova, points out that the investment focus on men-led companies results in a lot of untapped startup potential. Zlatolina Mukova, who is a Managing Partner at New Vision 3, shares that from her observation, despite the fact that most funds have a strong woman in their teams, females rarely occupy the senior level positions that correspond to their contribution to the success of the fund. 

The Managing Partner at South Central Ventures Tatjana Zabasu Mikuz shares another perspective and notes that even though females can outperform men, she is not a supporter of all-female teams. According to her, mixed and diverse startup and investor teams combine the best of both worlds and are better equipped to solve problems and overcome obstacles. She explains that women are still associated with more traditional business roles, so those who get into entrepreneurship and venture capital have a lot of persistence and determination, which are the main drivers for their success. 

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Fashion tech, wellness, and home living startups in the spotlight

During the last 5 years, all-female and mixed-gender startup teams have raised 73% or €43.9M of all €60.3M invested in the fashion tech industry in the CEE, while female-led startups in the wellness and beauty and home living sectors raised respectively 52% and 39% from the total investments per industry. Featuring startups from the most well-represented startups across the CEE in terms of female participation, the report spotlights Sorina Vlasceanu who is the co-founder of the Romanian big data startup Soleadify that provides sales and marketing teams with search engine sales to help them find their ideal customers. The Serbian ecosystem is represented by Marija Ilic who is the co-founder and CPO of the video game development software startup Two Desperados

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive, an online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. She is keen on sharing the innovation stories that shape the regional ecosystem and has a great interest in fintech, IoT, and biotech startups. Elena is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria.