Where Are The Women?

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In the last few years, quite a number of technology startups across Africa have received an influx of capital. However, a majority of these companies have been founded by men.

In 2015, YCombinator (YC), the world’s best startup accelerator, admitted its first batch of African startups. Since then, over 30 startups have been accepted into the programme. Yet, only 3 of these companies - Buycoins, Schoolable, and Tress - have had female co-founders and only 1 - Tress - has had a female CEO. This trend is concerning.

There is an incredible funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa. According to annual reports by Partech Ventures, over $1.204 billion has been raised by African startups since 2015, yet women led or co-founded companies only comprise single digit percentages of that amount.

In the same period of time, YC alumni companies in Africa have gone on to raise over $58.3m in follow-on funding yet less than 5% of that amount is going to women led companies. Given the disproportionate impact being a YC company can have on your ability to raise follow-on funding, it is no surprise that women entrepreneurs in Africa have such a huge funding gap. If we want more women to build high-growth venture-backed businesses, then more of them have to win the YC lottery and get its stamp of credibility. As the data has revealed, getting into YC as an African entrepreneur is almost certainly your best chance of  raising capital, accessing the talent and resources you need to build the best product, while getting access to a valuable network.

In YC’s 2017 annual letter, Sam Altman stated that the percentage of women who apply to YC is roughly the same as the percentage of women who get funded. This is great news! It means if more African women-led companies apply, more African women-led companies will be accepted into YC.

So why don’t more African women-led startups apply and get into to YC?

The truth is we don’t know. 

It could be that traditional societal values condition women not to challenge men or compete in the same arenas as they do. Perhaps more women who have started families consider entrepreneurship too much of a career risk, leading to a downward spiral where fewer female role-model entrepreneurs mean fewer new women entrepreneurs overall. Perhaps not enough women are encouraged to dive into STEM fields, which leads to a shortage of female technology talent required to build more women-led technology companies.

However, what we do know is that applying successfully to YC can be very challenging. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand what accelerators like YC are looking for. You may not know how to craft your answers in a way that can translate the local context of the problem you are solving to a global audience. You may not have access to a friendly YC alumni who can look over your application or even put in a strong word for you. You may not understand how important it is to have a technical co-founder or how a referral from YC alumni can help increase your chances. While many YC alumni do their utmost best to share a lot of information about how to overcome these challenges (see Paystack here and here), many women are still unwittingly shut out of the boys’ club where a lot of the deep knowledge transfer and networks that could support a successful application currently resides. 

At FAVE WOMEN, we don’t just want to complain about these injustices, we want to resolve them. This is why we are working with some amazing YC alumni to make it easier for African female founders leading tech startups to get into YC. By doing this, we hope to build a future where more women can lead high growth venture backed technology companies.

From Aug 21 - Sept 11, we will help connect you to a number of YC alumni who will review your YC applications to ensure they meet YC criteria and - if they wish - directly refer your company to YC to increase your chances of getting in.

Apply if you’re an African woman leading a technology startup with :

  • A live technology driven product or service

  • a technical co-founder 

  • any level of traction 

All we ask is that you don’t doubt yourself. You may think your company doesn’t have the potential to get into YC, or that your idea isn’t good enough, or that your company is too early, but you are most likely wrong. Let us be the judge of that. 

This opportunity closes on August 14th - so don’t wait, apply here! Know any women who are brilliant and have the ambition to lead a high growth tech startup? Please share this article with them.

Adenike Sheriff