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Unicorn empresses: Europe’s Female-Founded Unicorns defying gender norms

Europe's female-led unicorns

Gender diversity and inclusivity have become focal points in the technology industry in recent years. However, a significant gender imbalance persists, particularly in the realm of tech unicorns, startups valued at $1 billion or more.

The representation of women as founders of tech unicorns in Europe has historically been low. However, there has been a noteworthy surge in female founders since 2019, with the numbers nearly quadrupling each year. In 2021, out of the 595 newly minted unicorns, 83 had women as founders or co-founders, a substantial leap from the mere 18 in 2020. This positive trend has continued into 2022 and 2023, yet the unicorn founder landscape remains predominantly male-dominated.

Despite efforts to enhance diversity in the tech sector, data indicates an overall decline in diversity. Despite increased funding and initiatives, the investment in diversity has not yielded a proportional increase in diverse representation.

Amidst this downward trend, some female founders have successfully garnered investor attention. Notable examples include Switzerland’s largest crypto unicorn,, securing $25 million in funding, and US-based company Front, which raised an impressive $65 million.

While progress is being made, true gender diversity and inclusivity in the tech unicorn space require continued efforts. By celebrating the accomplishments of female founders in European unicorns, we aim to inspire and encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurial ventures in the tech industry.

Newcleo (UK)

Newcleo founder
Picture credits: Newcleo

Founder/s: Elisabeth Rizzotti, Luciano Cinotti, Stefano Buono
Founded year: 2021
Total funding: $448M
Valuation: $1.3B-$2B

Being an innovator in the field of nuclear energy, Newcleo works with the mission to generate safe, clean, economical, and practically inexhaustible energy for the world. It does this through a radically innovative combination of existing, accessible technologies. The nuclear power company harnesses new technology of lead-cooled fast reactors instead of high-pressure water reactors. Its reactors run on conventional wastes and do not require mined uranium, thus saving costs.

Back in 2022, the deep tech unicorn raised $315 million from its existing investors to develop affordable power-generation pilot projects in France and the UK.

Synthesia (UK)

Synthesia team
Picture credits: Synthesia

Founder/s: Lourdes Agapito, Matthias Niessner, Steffen Tjerrild, Victor Riperbelli
Founded year: 2017
Total funding: $153M
Valuation: $1B

Generative AI firm Synthesia produces enterprise videos, including workplace training and corporate presentations. The AI video creation tool creates videos from plain text. Users can make polished video presentations in-browser with no professional expertise required from just text. Its technology helps over 50,000 businesses, including Amazon in creating custom AI avatars used in instructional and corporate videos.

Recently, Synthesia, which creates realistic human avatars that deliver presentations, snapped $90 million in a Series C funding round led by Accel, with participation from NVIDIA’s venture capital arm NVentures, Kleiner Perkins, GV, and Firstmark Capital. With this round, the company attained unicorn status with a $1 billion valuation.

Boohoo (UK)

Boohoo Group founders
Picture credits: Boohoo Group

Founder/s: Carol Kane, Mahmud Kamani
Founded year: 2006
Total funding: Not Available
Valuation: Not Available

Manchester-based Boohoo Group is an online fashion retailer that operates several well-known fashion brands. It offers trendy and affordable fashion for women, men, and children, catering to a wide range of styles and tastes. Boohoo Group gained popularity for its online shopping experience, quick turnaround time, and a wide variety of fashion choices. Being one of the popular global e-commerce giants. its portfolio includes brands such as Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal, MissPap, and Karen Millen.

Infarm (Germany)

Infarm Founders
Picture credits: Infarm

Founder/s: Erez Galonska, Guy Galonska, Osnat Michaeli
Founded year: 2013
Total funding: $473M
Valuation: $1B

Infarm is an agritech unicorn that builds and distributes efficient vertical farms throughout cities. It combines efficient vertical farms with IoT technologies and machine learning to offer an alternative food system that is resilient, transparent, and affordable. The company distributes its smart modular farms throughout the urban environment to grow fresh produce for the city’s inhabitants.

In December 2021, Infarm picked up $200 million in a Series D funding round and reached unicorn status. The fund came from Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Partners in Equity, Hanaco, Atomico, Lightrock, and Bonnier.

Lendable (UK)

Lendable team
Picture credits: Lendable

Founder/s: Jakob Schwarz, Martin Kissinger, Paul Pamment, Victoria van Lennep
Founded year: 2014
Total funding: $287M
Valuation: $4.8B

The AI-powered consumer finance platform makes lending as easy as possible. Lendable applies AI and automation to enhance underwriting and offer customers better rates, transparency, and service. Also, it offers institutional investors ranging from global banks to family offices access to the asset class. Users can get the quote in a matter of a few clicks, which is different from traditional banks, which require paperwork and run expensive branch networks.

Last year, Lendable secured £210 million in funding led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’), through its Teachers’ Innovation Platform (TIP). The investment will be used to develop new products and drive the company’s ambitions for international growth.

Starling Bank (UK)

Starling Bank founder
Picture credits: Starling Bank

Founder/s: Anne Boden
Founded year: 2014
Total funding: $1.1B
Valuation: $3.3B

The digital bank provides a range of banking services through its mobile app, offering a modern and user-friendly banking experience. Customers can open personal and business accounts, manage their finances, make payments, set savings goals, and access a variety of banking features. Starling Bank offers features like fee-free foreign currency transactions, round-up savings, and integration with digital wallets.

Recently, Starling Bank, which aims to revolutionise the traditional banking industry, was in the headlines as its founder Anne Boden, who also served as its CEO stepped down from her position. The prominent woman entrepreneur paved the way for John Mountain, Starling’s COO, to serve as the interim CEO and lead the digital bank into its next phase of growth.

Vinted (Lithuania)

Vinted founders
Picture credits: Vinted

Founder/s: Justas Janauskas, Mantas Mikuckas, Milda Mitkute
Founded year: 2008
Total funding: $532M
Valuation: $4.1B

Vinted’s mission is to make second-hand fashion the first choice worldwide. It offers over 180 million second-hand fashion items and provides great chances to sell and buy quickly, safely, and easily across 11 European markets. The online marketplace offers a peer-to-peer marketplace for girls and women to buy, sell, and swap clothes with an online chatting feature, enabling users to shop with ease at a low cost.

In 2021, the clothes and home goods marketplace closed an all-equity round of €250 million in a round led by EQT Growth, with Accel, Burda Principal Investments, Insight Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Sprints Capital.

Mambu (Germany)

Mambu founder
Picture credits: Mambu

Founder/s: Eugene Danilkis, Frederik Pfisterer, Sofia Nunes
Founded year: 2011
Total funding: $427M
Valuation: $5.4B

Mambu, a German SaaS company fast-tracks the designs and builds any type of financial product for banks, lenders, fintech, and others. Its platform accelerates and simplifies the way financial products are built and deployed by financial institutions. The German company has over 50 million end-users leveraging the platform on a daily basis.

In 2021, Mambu secured €235 million in a Series E funding round led by EQT Growth. With this, the company was claimed to be one of the highest-valued B2B SaaS companies founded in Europe.

Einride (Sweden)

Einride founder
Picture credits: Einride \

Founder/s: Filip Lilja, Linnéa Kornehed, Robert Falck
Founded year: 2016
Total funding: $352M
Valuation: $1.2B

Swedish mobility company Einride specialises in electric and autonomous vehicles for freight transportation. With the intention to transform the logistics industry with sustainable and efficient transportation solutions, Einride launched its flagship product – Pod, which is an electric, autonomous, and driverless vehicle. The Pod is equipped with advanced sensors, cameras, and AI technology to navigate and operate autonomously.

Late last year, Einride raised $500 million in funding, which includes both a Series C equity raise and a debt facility. Following this, in April this year, Einride announced that it is expanding its operations into the UK, marking a pivotal moment for the British transport industry.

Darktrace (UK)

Darktrace founder
Picture credits: Darktrace

Founder/s: Poppy Gustafsson
Founded year: 2013
Total funding: $230M
Valuation: $2.9B

Cambridge-based cybersecurity startup DarkTrace practices software to control computer networks using AI. In fact, Darktrace is the first organisation to implement AI to the challenge of cyber security and it was founded by mathematicians and cyber experts from government intelligence backgrounds.

With its Immune System platform, the female-founded company radically modified the understanding of businesses to protect their most significant assets in the face of soaring cyber-threat. In April this year, as a part of its IPO filing, DarkTrace raised £165.1 million.
As strides are made towards achieving gender diversity and inclusivity in the tech unicorn space, it is important to emphasise the need for increased representation of women of colour in startup ecosystems, with the goal of enabling them to attain unicorn status.

While progress has been made in addressing gender disparities, true diversity encompasses intersectionality and recognises the unique challenges faced by women of colour. It is essential to create an environment that fosters and supports their entrepreneurial aspirations, providing them with equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.

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