The dream of reaching “unicorn status,” i.e. a more than $1 billion valuation, is a challenging process that not only requires a great product, a flywheel growth engine, and a world-class team but also enough financial backing.
Unfortunately, women-led startups got only 2.3% of VC funding in 2020. Also, only 1.07% of startups are likely to become unicorns. The discrepancy in funding gets even more pronounced for non-white founders.
Despite these odds, many SaaS businesses with female founders have achieved success and industry recognition. When VCs do invest in them, research shows that they return more than twice as much per dollar invested.
We explore five women-led SaaS startups that you should keep an eye on in 2023:
Co-founder and CMO: Kalisa Irving
Co-founded by Kalisa Irving and Mikael Bourdon, Soundsuit is a privately-owned B2B SaaS company in the music space. Established in 2017, this bootstrapped company offers an AI-powered digital assistant for background music in commercial areas like salons, shopping malls, gyms, restaurants, cafes, and venues to create customized playlists that engage customers and motivate staff.
The platform automates all in-store music tasks like selecting, scheduling, and updating. It also automatically adjusts to fit the in-store audience (target groups) and the business context (location, time of day, day of the week, season, sector). Standard pricing begins at $24.95 per location per month.
The startup has won several awards, such as the Paris Retail Award and the South-Germany Startup Prize – BayStartup. In 2019, it was chosen and mentored under the Google for Startups Program. In 2020, it was selected for the Cloudways Startup Program to help it grow and scale its cloud operations across three continents.
Soundsuit is the first fully-digital player in the B2B music sector. It is taking on the three entrenched giants in the business – PlayNetwork, Musak, and Mood Media – apart from a number of smaller, more recently-founded players.
Currently, it boasts a wide clientele base with names like Nestle, BoConcept, Izipizi, Fitbox, DesignHotels, and Strenesse.
Founder and CEO: Stephanie Lampkin
Blendoor is a recruiting tool that aims to remove unconscious bias in the tech hiring process, something that Lampkin, as an African-American woman, has faced throughout her life. According to Blendoor’s About page, “Despite earning degrees from both Stanford and MIT, Stephanie has faced immeasurable bias over the course of her career in gaining entry-level opportunities at tech and VC firms.”
When the startup was launched in 2015, it was pitched as a “blind recruiting” app that focused on finding diverse qualified candidates by removing names, genders, ages, and other indicators that could potentially create bias and allow the person’s work to speak for itself.
In 2017, when Lampkin realized that the public pledges of companies did not always match with their hiring processes, she switched focus to create a diversity index to dynamically score companies. She pulled data from diversity reports, EEO One forms, and other sources to build an algorithm that would assign a BlendScore to companies to show how diverse they were.
Lampkin says, “We decided to double down on BlendScore and in doing so hold companies accountable for all of these big financial commitments that they’re making in order to track the deployment of that capital, but also the downstream effects in terms of their hiring, retention, promotion rates, compensation equality, etc.”
Blendoor has raised around $1.7 billion and has 13 employees currently. Lampkin is vocal about the challenges of raising money as a Black woman founder. Project Diane reveals that only 93 Black women were able to raise $1 million in investments in 2020.
Blendoor is a key player in the HR tech startups market competing with the likes of Thrive Global, Peakon, and Cornerstone.
Founder and CEO: Kristina Ashley Williams
Unpacking is a data-driven learning platform that delivers diversity, equity, and inclusion training through gamification. Founded in 2020, it’s a nascent startup but has already graduated more than 200 alumni. It is funded by three investors, Techstars, Higher Ground Labs, and Cox Enterprises Social Impact Accelerator. The company has raised $220K in funding across two rounds.
Williams says she launched the company “in the aftermath of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders last year during summer 2020. We broke down what we mean by DEI creating six core training modules ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ rights, gender rights, disability rights, sustainability, and product inclusion. Teams come to us to book a cohort training, which is up to 30 people each…we run through a one-week certification process…it is a combination of our proprietary e-learning platform and virtual workshops, where you have an expert facilitator that goes on a deep dive of the content with your whole team in collaboration with one another.”
Even though the new platform was launched in 2021, big names like Beyonce, Forbes, NAACP, and TechCrunch have already endorsed it.
Kristina Ashley Williams
Traditional diversity training does not change people’s behavior, so Williams hopes to make a difference with her innovative and highly immersive platform. Unpacking creates an experiential learning environment and engages users in collaborative, interactive gamification.
Williams deplores the difficulty for Black women to raise funding, saying “It’s abysmal rates like 2% of Black founders receiving funds, 2% of female founders receiving funds, 0.02% of Black female founders receiving funds.”
CEO: Martina King
Founded in 2008, Featurespace is led by Martina King as the CEO. It is an adaptive behavioral analytics and deep behavioral networks platform. It tracks and detects inconsistencies in behavioral data to help companies prevent fraud and financial theft. The company believes that detecting fraud before the money is removed from the victim’s account is the best way to defend against scams and fraud attacks.
Its real-time platform, ARIC Risk Hub, is driven by two proprietary machine learning inventions: Adaptive Behavioral Analytics and Automated Deep Behavioral Networks.
Featurespace was awarded the Industry Achievement Award at the 2018 Card and Payment Awards. Its customers include HSBC, Worldpay, Contis, TSYS, NatWest, and ClearBank.
So far, the startup has raised $107.9 million in funding, which it is investing in partnering with payment processors around the globe and distributing the software to new markets.
CEO: Rita Selvaggi
Crunchbase ranks ActivTrak as one of the most promising SaaS startups in 2022. It is a unique workforce analytics and productivity platform that offers predictive insights to help companies build trust, boost productivity, and deepen engagement.
Managers can get actionable insights on activity breakdown, technology use, workload balance, and productivity tracking. In 2021, the company launched two new products – ActivTrak Premium and ActivTrak Coach. It also became a Google ISV Connect Partner and began to offer its solutions on the Google Cloud Marketplace.
With annual revenue of $4 million, ActivTrak has surpassed 550,000 users. The startup is backed by Elsewhere Partners and Sapphire Ventures and it raised $50 million in a Series B round in 2020.
According to Selvaggi, “The fresh capital will be used to scale ActivTrak’s go-to-market activities across sales, marketing, and channels and expand the company’s capabilities using AI-driven analytics.”
ActivTrak has garnered several awards and recognitions such as the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies, the Brandon Hall Excellence in Technology award for Employee Engagement, and the Deloitte Technology Fast 500.
Women-led workforces tend to foster diversity in perspective, create a positive company culture, and create further opportunities for women to succeed. SaaS teams led by women have been found to be more open to learning, collaborative, and communicative.
And so, we can concretely conclude that female leadership can improve business performance in multiple ways.