Funding for women-founded Irish tech companies more than doubled last year

8 Mar 2022

Image: © Viktoria Kurpas/Stock.adobe.com

While the amount of funding has grown significantly, a report suggests women-led businesses only got 13pc of the total investment into Irish tech.

Women-founded tech start-ups and scale-ups in Ireland raised a record €230m last year, more than double the amount raised in 2020, according to a new TechIreland report.

The figure shows a dramatic increase from 2020, when investment into women-founded companies reached a record €105m.

Future Human

The report shows 55 tech companies raised this funding throughout 2021, with investment coming from venture capital, grants and angel investments. The report was released to coincide with International Women’s Day (today, 8 March).

Start-ups in health-tech, enterprise and the entertainment/sports sectors attracted the most funding last year. Health-tech start-ups founded by women, specifically in life sciences, represented 50pc of the total amount raised. The high investment in life sciences mirrors the findings of a survey from the Irish Venture Capital Association released last month.

‘These are great results, but they are not grounds for complacency’
– JOHN O’DEA

While a number of outliers took a large chunk of the investment raised last year, there is evidence that young companies are scaling with larger growth capital rounds.

For the first time recorded by TechIreland, eight women-founded companies raised more than €10m each, representing 70pc of the total. This is compared to only two companies in 2020.

“Diversity is really important as all the research shows that diverse teams perform better,” TechIreland CEO John O’Dea said. “From an investor’s perspective, and for Ireland, better performance means more wealth and employment.

“These are great results, but they are not grounds for complacency – female-led tech businesses still only get 13pc of the investment into Irish tech. We can and must do better than this,” O’Dea added.

Despite significant support from Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential start-up (HPSU) funding and the Competitive Start Fund, the report shows a drop in the number of early-stage rounds between €100,000 and €1m last year.

‘‘Back in 2011, only 7pc of EI-backed HPSUs included a woman founder,” Enterprise Ireland entrepreneurship manager Sheelagh Daly said. “By putting a spotlight on this and providing capability and funding supports specifically targeting women, this has now tripled to over 21pc.’’

Enterprise Ireland has been focusing on improving gender diversity in Irish business and it announced a new three-year strategy in January to grow its total cohort of high-potential start-ups by 20pc.

While there has been significant growth in investment in the Republic of Ireland, it’s a different story in Northern Ireland. Investment into women-founded companies in Northern Ireland was less than 1pc of the total funding raised in 2021, TechIreland said, a steep decline from the 4pc share in 2020.

“Female founders deserve better,” AwakenHub co-founder Mary McKenna said. “Last year, the EU recognised that yet more needs to be done and launched a new Women TechEU pilot to provide additional supports for very early-stage female founders of deep-tech businesses.”

The TechIreland report also showed that only 20pc of the partners and 30pc of the mid-level team members in Irish VCs are women.

‘Break the bias’

Elsewhere, new figures have shown continued progress for women’s representation on the boards and leadership teams of Ireland’s 39 listed companies.

ISEQ 20 companies now have women making up an average of 32pc of their boards. This is according to a report by Balance For Better Business, a review group set up by the Government in 2018 to achieve greater gender balance at board and senior level within Irish businesses.

The report also showed that for other listed companies, the percentage of woman on boards is 23pc. This is an increase from a report released by the review group last December, when this figure was 20pc.

“This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘break the bias’, focusing on how we can create a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination,” Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, said.

“The leadership of any organisation sets the tone for all members which is why it is so important that women are given equal representation on leadership teams.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com