8 Mar 2021

Female Founders €105 Million Dollar Baby - International Women's Day 2021

Female Founders €105 Million Dollar Baby - International Women's Day 2021

On International Women’s Day what great data to present from The TechIreland Female Founders Funding Review. When I read the report in detail, it reminded me of the title of Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award winning movie Million Dollar Baby, one of my favorites about a female boxer played by Hilary Swank. TechIrelands report details that in 2020, in the year of a global pandemic, 50 Female Founders raised €105 million in funding for their businesses. I believe we have reached an initial important milestone on funding for female founders, breaking through the 100 million barrier with this 105 Million Dollar Baby milestone.

As an Entrepreneur and now an Investor, I am always optimistic about what is possible so to some of the positives from this report first, but there are still massive challenges I am a realist after all too:

60% of the funding went into Healthtech, and to keep with the boxing metaphors, this is a sector that Ireland boxes way above its weight in and is recognized as a leader on the global stage. More importantly this is a sector where adoption of new technologies has been accelerated by the pandemic, and a key sector that is part of the solution to solving some of the problems of scale that we now face.

30% of the funding went into deep tech sectors like Artificial Intelligence, Sensors, IoT and Big Data …. all deep research based, what MIT and Scale Ireland term Innovative Driven Enterprises “IDE”. IDEs are proven to be more resilient, better able to scale, grow and create much needed jobs post this pandemic.

However, on the challenges remaining side:

last time I checked women made up about 50% of the Irish population, so while $102 million is to be celebrated, Female Founders account for only 10% of the total amount raised by founders so we still have a way to go.

Overall funding for the Seed and Early stage is down and these are the seeds of the Oaks in the future and we need to be planting and funding them now to have that strength in the years ahead.

As a founding partner of Atlantic Bridge, for a long time now I am glad to say I am not the sole female investor in the room (or currently Zoom!) for investment committees. 40% of our senior investment team @ Atlantic Bridge are women. Maybe as a result of that, and the research certainly would support, it is no coincidence that among our portfolio companies 40% of them also have a female in a founder or leadership position.

To add some of the real women behind this Million Dollar Baby numbers report, a lot of our investments in these Female Founders alongside Enterprise Ireland, have been led on our investment team by Dr Helen McBreen, Dr Eimear Gleeson, Dr Jenny Westrup, Kathy Kelly, Helen Ryan and Alison Crawford of the Atlantic Bridge University Fund. Just some of the female founders and leaders we have backed include:

Dr. Lucy O’Keeffe, CEO of Croivalve who has developed a novel approach for the treatment of tricuspid heart valve regurgitation, which affects 1.5m people every year in the US and EU alone

Dr Fiona Edwards-Murphy CEO ApisProtect, an AI-based IoT platform creating actionable insights for beekeepers and pollinators, who has received multiple awards including Irish Technology Group 2020 Silicon Valley 50 Honorees and was FoodTank’s 15 Leading Women at the Intersection of Food and Technology in 2021

Dr Ríona Ní Ghriallais, co-founder and CTO of Proverum Medical, an award winning medtech company shortlisted for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2020

Dr Elena Blokhina, CTO Equal1 Labs, Ireland’s first quantum computing company who has published over 130 papers in microelectronics and quantum physics.

Leaving aside the sad ending to the movie, there was some controversy over the use of the Irish term “Mo Cuisle” by Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. Interestingly the English translation for Mo Cuisle is not My Love but “My Pulse” and the controversy ended up increasing awareness of the Irish language in a positive way in the USA. I am hopeful that this TechIreland report on female founders can do likewise, after all Ireland is a young country, rapidly becoming more open and diverse. I also like to think of those 46 incredibly brave female founders taking risk, who will hopefully become a key beat of the Irish economy that keep us going, powering Ireland, our families, and our communities ahead by creating sustainable prosperity and jobs.

TechIreland reporting on the key segment of Female Founders gives me hope, hope that one day we will have to use Billion Dollar Baby for the title of the TechIreland Female Founders Report.

Elaine Coughlan, Managing Partner, Atlantic Bridge