The Number of New Female-Founded Unicorns Quadrupled in 2021

Harri Weber

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

A woman stands at the end of table.
Image by Sergey Nivens

2021 was a banner year for female-founded unicorns—and at first glance, this year is on track to deliver more of the same, according to what appears to be a heartening analysis from Crunchbase. But is the future as rosy for women founders as the numbers would have you believe?

Here’s the good news: In a major step up from 2020, 83 female-founded companies achieved “unicorn” status last year by reaching a valuation of $1 billion or greater (compared to only 18 in 2020). Out of the bunch, New York’s Papaya Global, which makes HR software, is the highest valued on paper at $3.7 billion, followed by Seoul’s Market Kurly at $3.3 billion and Oakland’s LaunchDarkly at $3 billion.


Yet among those 83 female-founded firms, only 16 are headed by female CEOs.

And while the number of new unicorns founded by women more than quadrupled, that rise came amid an altogether roaring year for startups and venture capitalists, during which an unheard-of 586 businesses joined the once-elusive unicorn club. In this light, the percentage share of new unicorns founded by women (14% in 2021, compared to 11% is 2020) was relatively stagnant, according to Crunchbase’s stats.

Image credit: Crunchbase

So far this year, about 100 companies have crossed the $1 billion valuation mark—only 10 of which have at least one female founder, according to Crunchbase. Among those 10 firms, Finland-based retail logistics company Relex Solutions tops the list with a valuation of $5.7 billion; it is followed by Boston-based HR tech company Globalization Partners, which is valued at $4.2 billion, and Mountain View-based health monitoring startup Athelas, which is worth $1.5 billion.

So while we’re still talking about more women founders minting unicorns in 2022, their ratio to male-founded unicorns is actually declining this year and currently sits at about 10%. Though there is plenty of time to rectify that, an annual decline of 4% or greater wouldn’t be out of the norm, either: From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of new unicorns founded by women slipped from 21% to 10%, and has yet to return to similar heights.

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