When survey data reveals a “false sense of progress” for female founders, these VC and tech firms offer relief
Capital is everywhere.
Distributed work is the future.
We need community now more than ever.
Despite rosy headlines and lofty talk from executives, support for female entrepreneurs actually fell off a cliff in 2021.
This is what we learned from the 2021 Early-Stage Founder Sentiment Report published by venture capital firm January Ventures. Oracle for Startups co-sponsored the survey that polled 450 early-stage founders across the U.S. and Europe about their experiences and sentiment over the past 18 months. It was the firm’s third annual survey of early-stage startups and provided a glimpse of what’s on the horizon for technology and innovation.
“There’s an explosion of capital across the venture stack,” says Jennifer Keiser Neundorfer, cofounder and general partner of January Ventures. “But our data shows founders feel more alone and less supported than ever.” January Ventures supports female and underrepresented founders with the belief that venture should be transparent, open, and accessible. “We believe the returns of the future will be driven by a much more diverse set of founders,” she continued. “We’re building January to uniquely appeal to these founders and remove friction as they build the companies that will shape our future.”
💡 Support for female founders “fell off a cliff” in 2021
Female founders feel less supported by the entrepreneurial community in 2021 than previous years, and they also felt their gender held them back overall. In contrast, male founders reported high optimism about the environment supporting female founders. Neundorfer says the increased media coverage, events, and attention around female founders has created a “false sense of progress” about female founders, “and there’s clearly a disconnect between perception and reality.”
📌 36% of female founders feel supported by the entrepreneurial community, representing a drop from 50% in 2020.
📌 60% of female founders say their gender has held them back this year.
📌 31% of female founders feel optimistic about the environment for females, which represents little change from prior years.
📌 67% of male founders are optimistic about the environment for female entrepreneurs.
Two other key demographics expressed even lower positive sentiment, underscoring the need for increased support across all underrepresented groups.
📌 31% of black founders feel supported by the entrepreneurial community.
📌 25% of founders over the age of 50 feel supported by the entrepreneurial community.
💡 Distributed teams and remote work unleashes startup potential
If the pandemic has a silver lining, it is how it revealed the power of remote work. Founders flourished, feeling untethered to the big technology hubs, discovering new opportunities for distributed teams and an expanded talent pool. “Founders reported not feeling constrained by the old Silicon Valley Model,” said Neundorfer. “That gave them more opportunity and flexibility to access talent and innovate. It also underscored the idea that Silicon Valley is no just a physical place, but rather a mindset that can exist anywhere.”
📌 91% of founders say their teams will be partially or fully distributed and remote.
📌 5% of founders are going back to the office full time; 4% remain undecided.
📌 49% of founders say location doesn’t matter at all.
📌 21% of founders feel it’s important to be in a top tech hub.
💡 The need for community is greater than ever
Remote working has its downsides, like the vacuum of community created by increasing reliance on purely digital interaction. Founders reported the lack of community as a big challenge that is impacting everything from culture to creativity to fundraising. With fewer networking opportunities and serendipitous engagements, founders have fewer spontaneous opportunities to interact with peers, mentors, or potential investors. “There’s a real gap for community and culture building, which also means there’s real opportunity,” said Neundorfer. “You’re going to see new and unique innovation around community and networking for the new distributed company-building. The most sought-after communities will be those that help remove the unique friction of building remotely.”
📌 40% of founders said finding a lead investor is one of their biggest challenges.
📌 38% of founders said landing a warm introduction is one of their biggest challenges.
📌 39% of founders said distributed teams are a challenge for culture and team morale.
📌 37% of founders said distributed teams are a challenge for creativity and brainstorming.
These are just a handful of the insights found in the survey. Access the full survey report here.
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