There are still big hurdles to overcome when bridging the gender equality gap in entrepreneurship. However, women entrepreneurs have been "killing it" in the startup world. Despite remaining a minority demographic in business ventures, there’s still some growth year after year in women-owned businesses. What’s more, studies have consistently shown that women-led startups are often considered more solid financial investments. All in all, there are lots of strong reasons for investing in women-led startups.
So today, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day by talking about the top women-led startups in the world. Rather than grouping together women in different industries with vastly different strategies into one category due to their gender, we sought to pay tribute to a group of resilient and innovative entrepreneurs who happen to be women in light of March 8th.
[Related Article - March 8 Spotlight: Q&A With Plastics Circle Founders Trish Hyde and Gillian Hyde]
Our hope is that this list of accomplishments will inspire others - regardless of challenges due to their gender, race, or other identities - to pursue their ambitions. Without further ado, here are some of the best women-led startups around the globe in 2022.
The innovative women-led startups
The Plastics Circle
Sydney, Australia | theplasticscircle.com
The Plastics Circle is a Sydney-based “non-bearded hipster tech” startup that mainly operates in various regions in Asia. It was founded by four people - Gillian Hyde, Trish Hyde, Murray Hyde, and Ben Reay in 2018. The founders found themselves discussing the double nature of plastic: on one hand, the scourge of the environment, on the other, a durable, versatile material that could be utilized if only we stopped treating it as waste.
That inspired the creation of the Plastics Circle and its two SaaS products - PUMP and PlastX - that aim to help businesses and governments turn plastic into a part of a circular, closed-loop economy rather than landfill fodder. You can read more about the Plastics Circle in our interview with two of its founders, Trish Hyde and Gillian Hyde.
New York, USA | mentedcosmetics.com
KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson have been friends ever since their time at Harvard and have always wanted to work together on something. Their business idea came from an everyday problem they both were dealing with– the struggle of women of color to find the perfect nude lipstick. In 2016, they created Mented Cosmetics, a luxury beauty brand that promises the perfect nude lip shades for women of all colors.
Their success and the rapid increase in sales grabbed the attention of investors, and the founders, earlier in 2018, raised an impressive $3M in pre-seed. Mented Cosmetics is headquartered in New York.
London, The United Kingdom | mrswordsmith.com
Mrs. Wordsmith is the brainchild of Sofia Fenichell, who founded the e-learning company in 2015/2016 in London, UK. According to the website, Mrs. Wordsmith is “the world’s silliest learning company.” And not for nothing - the illustrations are created by the artists behind the beloved animated film Madagascar, and the vocabulary taught to children is sourced from creative storylines that spark the imagination and make education an enjoyable endeavor.
San Francisco, USA | solvhealth.com
Solv is here to change the often-arduous healthcare system in the US by enabling people to book a doctor's appointment on the same day, both for themselves and for their children. The app asks users about their symptoms, preferred appointment times, and matches them with local providers that are able to meet their needs.
It improves patients' experience by reducing waiting time, and it increases their partner's patient volume. Solv was founded in 2016 by Heather Mirjahangir Fernandez and is headquartered in San Francisco.
Save Your Wardrobe
London, The United Kingdom | saveyourwardrobe.com
Ever get that feeling that your wardrobe is full of clothes, but you’ve got nothing to wear? We all do. What we all don’t do is consider the consequences of constantly buying new clothes and chucking old ones in the trash. As much as 85% of discarded clothes either end up in landfills or are burned, not to mention the waste created during manufacturing and the water that goes into making even one regular T-shirt. This is one major problem the fashion industry is yet to remedy.
Another problem is that a lot of the waste of the fashion industry ends up in post-colonial, developing countries, especially in Africa. That’s what inspired Tunisia-born Hasna Kourda, now founder and CEO, to launch Save Your Wardrobe in 2017 in London. What it is is an app that uses AI to help people categorize the clothes they already own and come up with new combinations without buying new garments. Users can also donate their clothes and purchase upcycled fashion through the app.
San Francisco, USA | vergegenomics.com
Alice Zhang, the company’s founder, was just months away from a Ph.D. when she decided to quit and start her own company, Verge Genomics. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, US. Verge Genomics is a startup disrupting the healthcare industry by using Artificial Intelligence to find new drugs for brain diseases like Alzheimers, Als, and Parkinsons. The startup came out of YCombinator in 2015 and raised $32 million by July of that same year during its Series A funding round.
New York, USA | mavenclinic.com
Maven is revolutionizing women's healthcare by being the first virtual clinic dedicated to women's and family health. The startup connects working women with doctors through its secure platform and provides them with health education.
As users have access to dedicated and regular virtual medical care, they also get proactive interventions that could save them money in the long run by curbing the need for more complex procedures. Maven was founded in 2014 by Katherine Ryder and is located in New York.
San Francisco, USA | modernfertility.com
Modern Fertility is defining fertility care and seeks to change the sector from a reactive to a proactive process. The startup offers affordable hormone tests that women can take at home so that they can make well-informed decisions early in life.
Their aim is not only to provide a cheap solution - as the same tests cost more in clinics - but to also empower women by educating them and giving them important information about their reproductive system. The company was founded by Carly Leahy and Afton Vechery in 2017. It’s another startup that’s based in San Francisco, US.
Palo Alto, USA | snorkel.ai
Snorkel is a platform that helps clients build AI applications quickly and easily. We can trace the beginnings of the startup to the Stanford AI Lab. The superstar team behind this platform recognized that a big obstacle to AI development today is the lack of properly labeled data rather than models. And finding the root of the problem is half the solution, so Snorkel has been quite successful in improving the efficiency of AI.
The company received its seed funding and was launched in 2019. Today, Snorkel AI is in its Series C funding and has received about $135.3 million in total funding so far. The company is based in Palo Alto, a focal point of Silicon Valley, and was founded by Paroma Varma, Alexander Ratner, Braden Hancock, Chris Re, and Henry Ehrenberg.
Chicago, USA | werk.co
Werk is changing the way big companies approach and view flexibility as they believe this is when we perform at our peak. The company operates primarily as a people-centered platform that creates predictive analytics solutions to help companies build flexible cultures through data. The data gives insights so that employers can make important decisions and work more efficiently. Werk was founded by Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean in 2016.
San Francisco, USA | coworker.com
Coworker is the equivalent to Airbnb - but for coworking spaces. Leanne Beesley, the founder of Coworker, experienced the problem of finding a coworking place while she was working remotely as a freelancer and living in Asia. And thus, Coworker was born, an online platform that aims to solve that issue by allowing freelancers to book a space and leave a review. Coworker was launched in 2015 and is currently based in San Francisco.
Gurgaon, India| agrowave.in
Agrowave is an AgriTech startup that was founded by Anu Meena, who is also the startup’s CEO, in 2017, in Gurgaon, India. Much like other entries on this list, the motivation behind the startup was the personal experience of the founder, or more specifically, the experience of her grandfather who was a farmer. Meena, witnessing her grandfather’s struggle to sell produce, sought to create a solution - and that is what Agrowave is, a platform that seeks to empower farmers and reduce food waste.
Agrowave is a Farm2Business mobility supply chain for fresh produce that connects farmers with markets through mobile pickup stations. Farmers take their produce there and are spared the necessity to travel to find buyers. The mobile application optimizes the supply chain and profit for both farmers and markets. So far, they’ve worked with over 4,500 farmers.
Rockets of Awesome
New York, USA| rocketsofawesome.com
Rachel Blumenthal was inspired to create this startup after being frustrated from shopping at malls with her kids. She created Rockets of Awesome, a subscription-based curated box that sends parents 12 pieces of clothing each season based on kids’ preferences from previous purchases. It also allows parents to actually pay only for what they want to keep.
With Rockets of Awesome, shopping for kids becomes a pleasant experience since it's fast and easy for every parent, and kids receive products that they actually like. Rockets of Awesome was founded in 2016 and is based in NY.
Denver, USA| guildeducation.com
Guild Education is a company that helps big employers offer education as a work perk to fill the gap of working adults that do not have a college degree. The startup works together with public and low-cost educational institutes to create a tailored tuition plan that suits the employees. In return, the employers notice a positive return on investment and a higher retention rate on the workers.
San Francisco, USA| futurefamily.com
The idea was conceived when one of the two founders of the startup, Claire Tomkins, went through her personal journey of spending a fortune on fertility treatments to stay pregnant. So, together with Eve Blossom, they set out on a mission to provide women with a more affordable choice of infertility treatments by giving them low-cost IVF and egg freezing monthly plans.
Essentially, the subscription-based fertility company seeks to offer women and couples a stress-free experience with fertility. The company was founded in 2016 and is based in San Francisco. It’s estimated to have received about $123.2 million in total funding so far.
New York, USA| athenaclub.com
Athena Club was founded in 2017 and launched its website in the summer of 2018. This woman-led startup is disrupting the industry of menstruation by providing women in the US with affordable tampons as a subscription-based service. Women can customize their monthly package based on their needs and preferences and receive them at the frequency they want.
Though this was the original offer, it has since expanded to include a wide range of feminine care products, not just for menstruation but also for body and wellness purposes. Users can order everything from multivitamins and probiotics to panty liners and candles from the website. The founders of the Athena Club are Allie Griswold, Maria Markina, and Charles Desmarais. This personal care startup is based in New York and has so far received about $18.8 million in funding.
Budapest, Hungary| allaboutartemis.com
Since we’re on the subject of menstruation, let’s keep it topical and turn to another much-appreciated solution coming from Hungary’s beautiful Budapest– Artemis. Artemis is a smart bodysuit still in development that reduces menstrual pain via micro-vibrations and heat.
Alpha Femtech is the parent company developing Artemis, and both wearable tech startups have the same two founders: Dora Pelczer and Anna Zsofia Kormos. Personally, I can’t wait for this product to become commercially available. Artemis was founded in 2020, and its last funding type was pre-seed.
New York, USA| daily-harvest.com
Founded by Rachel Drori in 2014 this subscription-based meal services delivers meals made with organic produce. The companies focus is on healthy food systems that benefit not only the consumer but that are environmentally sound.
New York, USA| helloalfred.com
Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck created Hello Alfred, a name likely inspired by Batman’s equal parts loyal and sarcastic butler, to offer busy people the experience of having a need-based butler that could help them manage home-related tasks. Customers can use the app to request services from an "alfred," employees of the network, who visit their place on scheduled days and complete chores around the house, like tidying, or for the house, like shopping.
The startup was launched in 2014 and won the TechCrunch Disrupt SF the same year. Since then, the company has expanded into 40 cities in 2 countries. The Hello Alfred headquarters are in New York.
New Plymouth, New Zealand| firmsy.com
Firmsy is disrupting the law industry with its artificial intelligence-driven lawyer bot. Claudia King created the lawyer bot after being a lawyer for eleven years and being frustrated about the repeated processes she had to do daily that were keeping her away from doing the work she loved. With Firmsy, lawyers save a lot of time while their clients get better access to helpful legal services. Automio was founded in 2016 by Claudia King, and it’s based in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
New York, USA| caretaker.com
Caretaker is the new marketplace that is helping people to avoid paying any fees from breaking their lease by subletting their places to other people with the use of blockchain technology. Then, the lease is transitioned onto the new tenant without putting the property owner at risk. Everyone that uses their platform will get screened and verified as Caretaker gathers information that is helpful for the landlords. The company was founded by Susannah Vila, Elias Wehbe, and Roger Graham in 2017 and is located in New York.
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico| abartyshealth.com
The company’s vision is to change the healthcare market through automation. Its platform becomes a centralized data hub between doctors, physicians, and insurance providers. The medical records of patients become portable, and their identification universal, thanks to the platform’s advanced technology. One of the founders, Dolmarie Mendez, believes that the end result will be a lower cost of care and increased transparency and efficiency in the healthcare industry.
The other founder of Abartys Health is Lauren Cascio. Cascio and Mendez founded this company in 2016, and it’s based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. It’s earned about $5.1 million in funding so far.
Austin, USA| digitail.io
Digitail is a CRM (customer relationship management) software that is used by veterinary clinics. The veterinary clinics have three subscription plans from which you can choose, depending on size and company needs. The software serves to automate a lot of the administrative processes and keep track of patient information, all with the aim to improve pet care. Digitail was founded by Ruxandra Pui and Sebastian Gabor in 2018.
San Francisco, USA| winnie.com
Winnie was founded in 2016 by working moms Sara Mauskopf and Anne Halsall. They had both experienced the troublesome process of finding suitable schools for their children, and the solution to that was Winnie. Winnie connects parents with daycares and preschools, and at the same time, it helps these facilities to manage waiting lists, etc.
The startup is based in San Francisco, though it operates in multiple cities around the US. It has so far earned about $15.5 million in total funding.
Sandown, South Africa| emptytrips.com
The idea came when the founder - Benji Coetzee - noticed how many empty trucks and railways wagons were running on the Johannesburg-Durban route, and at the same time, her clients were complaining that transportation reduces their profits significantly. This inspired her to create EmptyTrips, a platform that connects transporters with companies that wish to transport their products between cities.
Overall, EmptyTrips improves logistics and makes sure no trip is a waste. The startup was founded in 2016 and is based in Sandown, South Africa.
Lagos, Nigeria| klasha.com
Klasha is the new fashion e-commerce store that was founded in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2018 by Jessica Anuna, who is also the company’s CEO. Her vision was to connect young millennial consumers in emerging markets in Africa to the global e-commerce economy. Many fashion sites do not offer payments in some African countries, and shipping usually takes around a month. Unlike them, Klasha not only offers trendy clothes at affordable prices but also ships within 1-5 days. Klasha offers both B2C and B2B solutions, so online shops can integrate Klasha into their websites.
Gothenburg, Sweden| 1928diagnostics.com
A women-led startup based in Gothenburg, Sweden, 1928 Diagnostics was chosen by the World Economy Forum as one of the world's 61 most promising Technology Pioneers. 1928 Diagnostics wants to bridge the gap between DNA technology and infection control by providing a platform for doctors that can help them choose the right antibiotic treatment for each of their patients individually through DNA analytics. This would essentially help prevent antibiotic resistance. The startup was founded in 2014 by doctors Kristina Lagerstedt and Susanne Staaf.
Stockholm, Sweden| karma.life
Karma, another Swedish startup, seeks to solve food waste from grocery shops and restaurants by selling unsold food at discounted prices. The merchants can post their unsold products on the app, and consumers can purchase them directly through the platform and pick them up before closing time. Karma is based in Stockholm and was founded by Elsa Bernadotte in 2015.
Seattle, USA| rebellyous.com
Christie Lagally created a plant-based eco-friendly substitute to change the way we eat chicken… by turning it into a plant-based substitute. Originally named Seattle Food Tech, Rebellious came straight from a YCombinator seed accelerator in the summer of 2018 and had acquired a seed funding of $1 million to start manufacturing the vegan chicken nuggets. The business has since expanded to produce plant-based nuggets, patties, and tenders at affordable prices so that every family can enjoy them.
Rebellyous Foods was founded by Christie Lagally, who is also the CEO of the company. The startup is based in Seattle.
San Francisco, USA| heyvina.com
The concept of Vina is similar to Tinder, but instead of a date, women get a new friend. The app works through an algorithm that takes into consideration mutual friends, interests, location, and answers given to Buzzfeed quizzes. The users of the app can swipe left or right depending on whether they find each other compatible enough to establish a new friendship.
Singapore, Singapore| policypal.com
Policypal uses AI technology to provide customers with a way to customize their insurance experience on their phone through an app. The founder of Policypal, Val Jihsuan Yap, was featured in Asia's 30 under 30 in 2017. Despite being founded in 2016, they raised a surprising amount of $20M earlier in 2018 to develop blockchain-based insurance products. The startup is based in Singapore.
Singapore, Singapore| homage.sg
Homage is another Singapore-based startup founded by Gillian Tee in 2016. Tee has been well-known for entrepreneurial activities after coming out of YCombinator with Rocketrip. After 15 years in the US, she decided to return home with a new business idea - Homage. Homage connects local caregivers with senior care recipients through an online platform. At the same time, it keeps the families of patients updated. Patients have the option to customize their care visits depending on their needs and flexibility.
Singapore, Singapore| wiz.ai
We’re still in Singapore with Jennifer Zhang’s brainchild WIZ AI. The startup uses AI to provide humanized, automated talkbots for customer service. The talkbots are meant to understand various accents and multiple languages to reduce the amount of wait time, improve customer satisfaction, etc. The company has received about $26 million in total funding so far since its launch in 2019.
Hamburg, Germany| traceless.eu
Traceless Materials is a relatively young startup founded by Johanna Baare and Anne Lamp in 2020 and based in Hamburg, Germany. We started this list with a solution to plastics that fits a circular economy model, and we’re ending it with another one. Traceless Materials has produced three plastics alternatives - film, coating, and plas(ic) - that are made of non-toxic, bio-based materials that don’t compete with food or cause land-use change. These materials are competitively priced to be used as alternatives to plastic and bioplastic, as they’re biodegradable. The startup has received funding of about $4 million so far.
Women entrepreneurs and innovation
According to Business Today, women have a better understanding of untapped markets and user needs, often because they themselves are an underserved audience. And we have seen just that sort of innovation in the top startups we covered today - novel, disruptive technology and solutions to long-standing problems and gaps in the market.
Women in all sorts of industries and with different approaches prove that gender shouldn’t be a barrier to becoming a successful entrepreneur. We are underrepresented in the business world, but hopefully, in the following years, more women will find the space to start turning their ideas into reality, perhaps finding this list of women entrepreneurs and female-led startups as inspiration to pursue their ambitions.