Insights / Startups
”Data shows that female-founded companies are more successful than all male founded”
On challenges and good examples to get the startup industry more equal
1 Jun 2022

Koepke’s background is in journalism, acting, and communication. At the age of 26, she became an angel investor — by mistake. To learn more, open doors to others, and make this ”puddle” understandable, she founded the Investpodden podcast which led to keynote speaking, moderating, and her current position as a project manager at Startup Sweden.

When you’re a moderator or give a lecture, what do you most often talk about?

— One of my missions, she says, is to open doors and put a light on injustice. I was not a given participant in the startup and investing community so my talks usually focus on capital for women, diversity, and inclusion. I’ve also had a talk called ’Ooops I became an angel investor’ where I tell the story of how I became one, sort of by mistake. We need more people with different backgrounds investing. We all have to start somewhere, which is why I think it’s important to allow smaller ticket sizes and the entrepreneur get to choose really engaged experts, even if your cap table is a little bit longer. You should never underestimate engaged people with a great network and knowledge, even if it comes with a smaller bag of money.

— Women, Koepke continues, are in general grossly underestimated. In Sweden, why do you think we haven’t had a female prime minister until now? Why has America never had a female president? There is still bias when it comes to male-dominated occupations. The startup scene has been — and still is — male-dominated, so we still use the term ’female founder’ as the male is the norm and the woman is the deviant. Statistics show women are more educated than men and perform better in school — yet men make more money and women have to take greater care responsibility for family, friends, and the home. Studies show that even when we think we are equal in the home, women take the project management role and keep track of everything that needs to be done. The project planning is very taxing itself. Every task goes through three stages: Acknowledging something that needs to be done, planning on how to do it, and executing. So even if a woman delegates, she still keeps track of what needs to be done and how it can be done, and then tick it off the list once it’s taken care of. Women take more parental leave as they usually make less money than their spouses which affects their career progress. In short, if you’re a white male, you have a golden ticket and you need to invite people to your world and network who don’t look like you to be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. 

Ronja Koepke.

The Nordics praise itself as one of the most equal regions in the world. Yet, we continuously hear of inequality when it comes to, for instance, VC funding. What are the main reasons for this? 

— I would say we’re the least bad. Yes, it’s worse in other parts of the world, but that’s no reason to celebrate. Even if we are proud of ourselves for being in the top-rated countries, we are not where we should be. I can’t be proud of the pay gap, of women being victims of domestic violence and rape, women having a heavier workload due to care responsibility, or that only 0,9% of the funding goes to female founders. Does that sound equal? We blame female founders for not presenting in the right way or not creating as interesting companies, but studies show that’s just investors’ bias. Female founders are asked how to mitigate risk, while male founders are asked how they’ll conquer the world. 

Are you optimistic? Are we moving in the right direction?

Yes! Very! We’re having the conversations that need to be had. More women are becoming investors and partners at VC firms. However, the progress is slow and unless the men are willing to not only allow change — but be the change — it won’t happen any faster. We are also aware of how we talk to our children, we know not to encourage girls only to be pretty and wait for a prince, and we tell young girls they can be whatever they want and that they are capable of anything. ’Boys will be boys’ simply does no longer apply. I hope the coming generations will take equality and inclusion for granted, something completely natural. Women will not be seen as pretty objects, who are disturbing the peace when speaking their minds, and men will think having several women on the board or in the leading positions isn’t a deviation. I’m looking forward to not having to say ’female founder’ anymore. Bonus, data shows that female-founded companies are more successful than all-male founded companies. More investors will realise this, and we all want to invest our money where it will grow.

So, what needs to be done?

— The world needs to be a safe place for women, and communities must prioritise female health, well being and equality. How can we expect more women to take great risks like quitting their job and income to found a company when she lives in a world where she makes less money to set aside to be able to start her business? She also takes a huge risk of giving birth so the population can continue to grow because maternity care is not a priority, she might have horrible experiences with men due to the statistics we see for domestic abuse and rape but to fund her startup she needs to rely on men to invest? So how can I be optimistic even though the data is depressing? I’m lucky to be surrounded by change-makers, who are driving the uncomfortable conversations. Women entrepreneurs who will not give up, women investors who are changing the investor landscape. And, men who are open to hearing women tell their stories, believe them, not protect male friends who’ve done horrible things, and drive the change together with women, Koepke explains. She adds:

— If you’re in a privileged position, invite someone who doesn’t have your privilege to your network. Listen to what they have to say, spread the word about their business and buy their products or services. Be the change. Stop buying products from ’femwashed’ companies. Vote with your money. 

Can you share any good examples?

— When a woman decided to make a business out of embroidery there were a lot of eyebrows raised, now everyone in the investment community knows who she is because she understood the customer and what they wanted (The Folklore Company). Another woman thought home testing should be easier, she founded Dynamic Code, was backed by two women — Backing Minds — and it took off like rocket fuel. Data could be used as a contraceptive, a woman thought. She and her husband experimented at home and now Natural Cycles is a huge hit all over the world. Two women decided to make healthcare digital and accessible, now their solution Grace Health is a hit in Africa, helping women track their cycle and get their health-related questions answered. Whenever I’m told anything that sounds like women aren’t up for a challenge I think about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, if you don’t know who they are, you need to google right now.

And for you, what do you have coming?

— In August, 10 Swedish scaleups will join me and Startup Sweden in Berlin for a 1-week boot camp, focusing on everything they need to know to expand to Germany. For me, I will continue to moderate and do lectures until we no longer need to say ‘female founder’, Koepke concludes.