Accelerating Women-led Startups

A Knowledge Brief by the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative

Mar 2020

There is significant evidence that women entrepreneurs face unique challenges in starting and growing businesses, particularly in emerging markets. Acceleration programs represent one potential model for overcoming these challenges through support services and investment. Using GALI data on more than 14,000 ventures across 160 countries, this knowledge brief examines trends in the acceleration of women-led ventures.

Key Takeaways:

  • Women-led ventures are under-represented in acceleration. Within the GALI dataset, 52% of founding teams are made up entirely of men, followed by 35% with both men and women, and only 13% comprised entirely of women entrepreneurs. 
  • Women-led ventures have less investment coming into acceleration, and appear less investment oriented than men-led ventures. By the time they apply, men-led ventures are more than twice as likely than women-led ventures to have secured some equity investment. In addition, women-led ventures have lower fundraising targets and are less likely to prioritize "access to investors" as a benefit of the acceleration experience. However, even when controlling for a range of venture and founder characteristics, there remains a statistically significant gender gap in equity financing.
  • Acceleration alone does not close the gender financing gap. The equity gap persists in acceleration: Men-led and women-led ventures that participated in accelerators were similarly likely to increase their annual revenue and full-time employees, yet women-led ventures raise on average nearly US $100,000 less in equity as men-led ventures and secure less than half as much new debt.
  • Representation within programs has an impact on gender diversity of applicant pools, but it’s unclear what methods actually help women-led ventures grow. Having more women on selection committees and as mentors is associated with more women-led ventures in applicant pools and cohorts. However, when it comes to program design, interviewed accelerator representatives hold a range of perspectives on how to support women entrepreneurs, demonstrating a lack of consistent understanding of the issues and best practices on addressing the challenges.

Read the full brief for more insights and a list of priority research questions to improve acceleration outcomes for women-led ventures.