Top 10 Highlights of 2020

2020, what a year!

I want to start by saying thank you to all of you who made this really challenging year one full of great achievements, fascinating conversations, and new friendships. Curating Femstreet and meeting you guys in real life earlier this year and then virtually was a bright spot for me this year.

As the 2020 movie (finally) comes to an end, let’s take a moment to reflect on a year of women making headlines and our biggest stories of the year.

And action…🎬

1. It has been a down year for female-founded company exits.

In 2019 the IPO market had seens a record number of women CEOs take companies public. While Bumble reportedly filed confidentially for an IPO in 2021, 2020 has been a down year for female-founded company exits, but it has been across the broader market too. Total exit value for female-led companies has actually risen 29.9% while it has declined by 43.6% for all US companies over the same timeframe. While COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women on the deal side, women are still exiting at higher values than all US companies. The most notable exit was the acqusition of Mirror by the athleisure and activewear giant Lululemon for $500m. Mirror’s founder Brynn Putnam founded Mirror in 2016 and she was 9 months pregnant when she pitched her Seed investors… Read more

2. Female founders have been forced to step back at the companies they created.

The upscale women’s club and coworking startup The Wing raised more than $117M in venture capital and by September 2019, The Wing’s founder Audrey Gelman was appearing on the cover of an issue of Inc. magazine. The pandemic, however, upended The Wing’s business. Audrey Gelman stepped down and The Wing shut down several locations for good after being hit by accusations of racism and bullying. This year we have seen that women are a lot more harshly held accountable and to higher standards than men who have been getting away with similar things forever. But they also have a responsibility to create businesses that are not only for white women. Gelman wasn’t the only one stepping down this year: Tyler Haney of activewear startup Outdoor VoicesSteph Korey of luggage company AwayChristene Barberich of women’s digital publication Refinery29; Yael Aflalo of fashion brand Reformation; Shannon Spanhake of workplace-benefits platform Cleo…Read more

3. We have seen mega pops and flops.

Quibi - short for “Quick Bites” - co-led by CEO Meg Whitman, who’s also the former eBay and HP CEO, had raised close to $2B prior to its launch in April. It turned out that no one wanted to watch Quibi. Quibi didn't launch with the ability to take screenshots or share clips and there was no way for people to easily discover and engage with Quibi's series. Meg Whitman and co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg are not seeing eye to eye either and now Quibi is apparently shutting down after failing to find a buyer…Read more. We have seen many companies raise large Series As just months after their Seed rounds with valuations north of $100M pre-money but not even a handful are femlae led. In autumn, Benchmark led the Series A of the the QVC for GenZ, Popshop Live, founded by Danielle Li, at a pre-money valuation of approximately $100M… More here

4. The number of women-led VC funds is increasing significantly.

We know that Women are tremendously underrepresented at the General Partner level in venture but we are seeing a growing number of women that are foregoing the traditional path and building their own VC firms from the ground up. Li Jin left a16z and raised her own $10m fund within a few months to invest in the Passion Economy. Super angel Cindy Bi has raised more than $3M within a month since the public launch of her Rolling fund. Kirsten Green’s ForerunnerVentures has raised a new $500M fund amid the pandemic. In Europe, Blossom Capital, the early-stage VC firm co-founded by ex-Index Ventures and LocalGlobe VC Ophelia Brown, announced a second $185M fund, less than 12 months since fund one of $85M closed. All Raise, led by CEO Pam Kostka, has raised $11M to bring it closer to goal of bringing equality to the tech world. 

5. We celebrated a number of leadership hires and promotions.

Yale’s $32B endowment announced that it will require its 70 U.S. money managers that they will be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff. And this year we celebrated a numbers of promotions and new leadership hires, here are just a few:
Funds: Anna Palmer became the first female general partner at Flybridge. Abigail Hunter-Syed was promoted to Partner at LDV Capital. Kara Nortman of Upfront Ventures has been promoted to co-managing partner. GV Principal Terri Burns was promoted to Partner. Lily Lyman of Underscore VC has been promoted to Partner. Carmen Alfonso Rico has joined Blossom Capital as its newest partner. Morgan Beller joined NFX as General Partner. Sandhya Venkatachalam joins Khosla Ventures as Partner. April Underwood, former CPO at Slack, joined Obvious Ventures as a Venture Partner.

Companies: Debby Soo replaces Steve Hafner as CEO of OpenTable. Stripe has poached General Motors’ chief financial officer Dhivya Suryadevara. Bozoma Saint John left Endeavor and joined Netflix as their new CMO. Intercom announced the promotion of Karen Peacock to CEO. Cristina Cordova, formerly Head of Corporate Card at Stripe, joined Notion. Dropbox’s Geraldine MacCarthy joins the German HR tech company Personio as CRO. Apple hired Intel’s Barbara Whye as its new head of diversity.

6. Global venture funding to female-founded companies fell in 2020.

Hard to digest but global venture funding to female-founded companies fell in 2020. Although investors and entrepreneurs say it’s not clear if the decline is entirely due to COVID-19, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce. Crunchbase finds that 800 female-founded startups globally have received a total of $4.9B in venture funding in 2020, through mid-December, representing a 27 percent decrease over the same period last year…Read more

7. Black women-founded startups and communities for people of color are on the rise.

The first official funding stage is one of the biggest challenges for underrepresented founders. The number of Black female founders who have raised more than $1M has nearly tripled since 2018. As of August, Black and Latinx founders had raised $2.3 B, representing just 2.6% of funding in 2020. In October, Ethel’s Club founder Naj Austin announced Somewhere Good, a social platform centering and celebrating people of color through conversation, wellness and creativity. Naj is doing some great work around making therapy more accessible for folks who traditionally would not have the means. Only an estimated 1% of venture capitalists are Black women, an issue in its own right. In 2019, Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed was the only woman who identified as African American to make partner at a VC firm. Many of the Black women partners have started their own firms or work at smaller firms. Sarah Kunst continued to make headlines with Cleo Capital, an early stage and pre-seed fund that doesn’t treat diversity as an afterthought. Valence, the online community dedicated to increasing economic opportunity for the Black community, raised $5.25M. BLCK VC, co-founded by Sydney Sykes, is creating opportunities for a more inclusive VC community…Read more

8. Entrepreneurship from home - the builders thriving in the new world.

The world moved fully online which made it easier for career jumpers, creative hackers, community builders and industry academics to thrive.

With the proliferation of open-source, no-code/creators tools and new professional networks, the builders thriving in the new world not only think differently, but look and build differently. In 2020, we have seen journalists leave their publications and start Substacks like Polina Marinova going fulltime with The Profile and wellness and fitness influencers making fortunes on Instagram by helping us to get through this year. 16 year old Charli D'Amelio recently reached the milestone of becoming the first TikToker to gain 100 million followers and landed a family reality show at Hulu with her sister Dixie. The Twitch channel of the Chess sisters Alexandra & Andrea Botez has grown from about 73,000 followers in May to nearly 500,000 in December 2020. They have now signed as content creators to esports organization Envy… Read more

9. More celebrities support diversity in tech.

Alicia Keys and the NFL have partnered to launch a $1B endowment fund to help support Black-owned businesses. Pharrell launches Black Ambition, an accelerator for black and latinx entrepreneurs. Beyoncé partnered with the NAACP to help fund Black-owned small businesses across the U.S.

10. Women are leading the way in mental health.

The pandemic has pushed the mental health conversation forward in a way we haven't seen before. We have seen a boom in capital availability in 2020 for many female-led startups that want to help our brains. Modern Health led by Alyson Friedensohn brought in a $51M Series C led by Battery Ventures in December at a valuation north of half a billion dollars. Spring Health founded by April Koh raised $78M Series B led by Tiger Global. TalkSpace co-led by Roni and Oren Frank, which offers video and text-based therapy, had raised a $50M Series D funding right before the pandemic hit. Real led by Ariela Safira raised $6M from Forerunner Ventures and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Share with us what you are looking forward to in 2021.

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Have a smooth start to 2021, friends!

👋 Sarah


Written by Sarah Nöckel, Early-Stage investor at Northzone. Born in Germany. Based in London. You can find me elsewhere on Twitter and Instagram.