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Africa’s female founders are crushing it

So why aren’t they getting funded?

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Hey, and welcome to this edition of Tech Safari 👋🏽

We're really excited to partner with early-stage investor Founders Factory Africa on this edition, to shine a light on funding for female founders.

They’re also hosting an Office Hours for female founders on Thursday, the 14th of March. Register here to save your spot.

Alright, let’s dive in!

What does it take to walk away from a well-paying job at a big tech company?

For Judy Njogu, the decision was easy.

She wanted to make a difference in her home country, Kenya.

And she wanted to build something that made her feel alive.

So in 2022, Judy left her job at the tech giant Oracle to start VunaPay and help farmers in Kenya get paid on time.

Last year, she joined an accelerator to learn about venture capital and then raised a pre-seed round to fuel her growth.

Judy talking to coffee farmers in Kenya

But she’s one of the lucky ones.

Because last year, only 15% of venture funding went to teams with one female founder.

Which makes no sense because..

Female founders outperform their male peers

In 2015, First Round Capital dug into data from 300 companies over a decade.

The Silicon Valley VC fund found that teams with at least one female co-founder outperformed all-male teams.

And not just by a little, but by a massive 63%

An infographic from First Capital’s ten-year report

While they’re few and far between, female leaders are better investments:

So, women do more with less.

But are investors buying it?

Last year, in the U.S., companies with all-female founding teams scooped just 1.8% of the $170.59 billion worth of VC money raised.

That's the lowest since 2021.

And it stings harder when we look closer to home in Africa.

We have a problem funding our female founders

Each year, when we flip through any venture funding report, we have to squint hard to spot the funding set aside for women.

Startups run by a solo female founder or an all-female team brought in just 2.3% of the total funding.

And between 2019 and 2022, data from Africa: The Big Deal shows us that on average:

  • 85% of funding went to male-only founding teams or solo male founders.

  • 14% of funding went to mixed-gender founding teams.

  • And only 1% of funding went to female-only founding teams or solo female founders.

But here’s where it gets weird…

Africa has a lot of funds for female founders

Starting with female-specific funds, like:

Not to mention the many large funds that have committed to invest in female founders.


Funds are on the lookout for female-led companies.

Female founders are hunting for VC money to grow.

What's the deal?

Why can't we seem to break past that 2% mark of VC funding that goes to women?

We talked to female founders to get their perspective

When Farah Emara set out to reduce high food losses in Egypt, she knew building a startup would be a hard road.

But what caught her off guard was how hard it was to raise money as a female founder.

Farah is the co-founder and CEO of Fresh Source.

Farah Emara (Front row, third from the right) the Fresh Source team

But when she went to raise money, her CEO title became a sticking point.

A friend suggested she should let her male co-founder take over as CEO to speed up fundraising - arguing that VCs saw male CEOs as more ambitious risk-takers.

And it wasn't the only time her gender got tangled up with her abilities as a CEO.

"Investors have asked me if I'm married and if I plan on starting a family. They even asked what would happen to the company once I had kids."

Another founder, Danqing Zhu, who runs Wingi, a supply chain startup in Kenya, says she's been through the same thing.

Danqing (front left) with part of her team

“Female founders are more likely to be judged personally. And it’s quite hard to change patriarchal mindsets.”

There’s a power imbalance between founders and VCs - and it gets more imbalanced if you’re a female founder.

As Danqing says, "Many female founders give up because of these unfriendly interactions with investors and look for other ways to fund their ventures."

But it turns out that:

Funds are also struggling to find female founders

We talked to Founders Factory Africa to figure out why.

Based in South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, Founders Factory Africa (FFA) has backed startups across the continent for a good six years.

And they’ve noticed how little funding goes to female founders on the continent.

So, when they raised $114 million last year, they doubled down on fixing the gender gap in VC funding.

In the next five years, FFA wants 50% of the founders in their portfolio to be female-led.

And not because it’s a nice-to-have, but because investing in more women could massively boost their returns.

While most VCs will cite the “founder pipeline” as a big hurdle to investing in female founders, Founders Factory Africa thinks:

Investors need to look harder to find female founders

As an investor, you can’t just rely on cold emails or startups finding you.

FFA says we need more spaces for female founders to meet, build a network, and share ideas.

And Judy, the co-founder and CEO of VunaPay, agrees.

When she hopped on board with Antler, they showed her the ropes of venture capital.

Along the way, she went to a Founders Factory Africa event, where she was surprised to hear a VC openly pledge to support female founders.

Founders Factory Africa became one of the earliest investors in VunaPay.

Another space Judy found helpful was Women Who Build Africa (WWBA).

Started in 2022 by Gwera Kiwana and Thea Sokolowski, WWBA is about bringing together African women in tech.

They’re creating platforms for women across the continent to connect, exchange ideas, and learn together.

WWBA has given Judy access to information and guidance that female founders would miss out on if they built on their own.

Working with female-focused accelerators and communities is an answer to the pipeline problem.

But there’s still more that can be done to support female founders.

For example, FFA is working on alternative ways to fund female founders - like debt.

Quick non-dilutive capital helps cushion female founders who struggle to raise equity.

So on top of equity funding for all founders and a $100k low-interest loan, FFA gives female founders an additional $150k as a low-interest loan.

Ultimately, we need to see more funding action going to female founders - and not just commitments.

And we need to keep this conversation going - outside of dedicated months and days.

What do you think of Africa’s female funding gap? Let us know here.

PS - if you’re an investor, feel free to reach out to the female founders in this article

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