Inspiring female-driven startup unicorns born in 2021 and 2022

Women have been making big waves, building successful businesses and thriving in leadership positions. In celebration, we’re featuring some of our favourite female-driven startup unicorns.

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During the last few years, women all over the world have been making big waves, building successful businesses, thriving in leadership positions and proving over and over again that hard work can break any glass ceiling (hello Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kamala Harris).

Though there’s still much work to be done, we’d like to highlight some of the great strides made during the last two years, marked by the birth of more female-founded unicorns than ever before. 83 of the 595 unicorns minted in 2021 were either founded or co-founded by women. 

That’s a big leap compared to 2020’s count, which was only 18 - and the good news doesn’t end there. Many of our existing female-founded and co-founded startup unicorns have grown to become decacorns (i.e. surpassing the $10B valuation mark). Some examples include:

We’re also seeing many female-led unicorns go public with some pretty serious IPOs, including:

Other notable mentions include Bumble, Nextdoor and Rent the Runway, showing that women are venturing past founding unicorns and making successful exits at impressive valuations. 

In celebration of all these wonderful achievements, we’re featuring some of our favourite female-driven startup unicorns, born in 2021 and 2022.

RELEX Solutions

Born: 2022

Valuation: $5,7B

Founded by: Johanna Småros, Mikko Kärkkäinen, and Michael Falck

Headquarters: Finland

Reflex Solutions is a supply chain and retail planning platform that helps companies optimise their sales and operations planning (S&OP) with less waste and higher customer satisfaction. Users of their cutting-edge retail optimisation software include Carrefour, Media Market, PetSmart and WHSmith, among others. 

Meet the co-founder

Having earned her D.Sc. Degree from the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) with a thesis titled “Information Sharing and Collaborative Forecasting in Retail Supply Chains", Johanna Småros had an interest in retail supply chains early on in her career. 

She has since moved on to do groundbreaking work in supply chain management, co-founding Reflex Solutions with fellow researchers Mikko Kärkkäinen, and Michael Falck in 2005 and currently holding the position of CMO.

Fluent in Swedish, Finnish and English, Johanna reads and kickboxes for fun. She’s also a mother, a fan of contemporary dance, and considers her ability to problem solve her biggest strength. 

Globalization Partners 

Born: 2022

Valuation: $4,2B

Founded by: Nicole Sahin

Headquarters: USA

Globalization Partners enables companies to grow their teams globally in hours through their AI-driven Global Employment Platform. It provides a variety of recruitment and HR management services that make it easier for companies to expand globally and set up branch offices in strategic locations. With a 98% customer satisfaction rating, this young startup unicorn operates in 187 countries with 150 payroll currencies. 

Meet the founder

Sole founder and Executive Chair at Globalization Partners, Nicole Sahin has also been recognized as a WSJ Best-Selling author for her book “Global Talent Unleashed: An Executive's Guide to Conquering the World”. She was also named one of Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2021.

A passion for non-profit work aimed at ending poverty lead her to work with various organisations (e.g. School the World) to ensure underserved communities in Africa, India, South and Central America have access to clean water, education and basic income. She’s also helping to further gender and racial equality initiatives as Vice-Chair of Diversity of YPO New England.

Papaya Global 

Born: 2021

Valuation: $3,7B

Founded by: Eynat Guez, Ruben Drong, and Ofer Herman

Headquarters: USA

Founded in 2016, Papaya Global offers cloud-based solutions that facilitate hiring, onboarding, payroll processes and HR management for companies with global teams in over 160 countries. Its automated platform is easy to implement and scale and gives companies access to valuable business intelligence (BI) insights and analytics.

Meet the founder

With over 20 years of experience in global workforce management, Eynat Guez is the current CEO of Papaya Global. Born in Israel, she finished her army service before moving on to found Relocation Source and Expert Source, serving as CEO for both.   

In 2021, she took the number eight spot on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews list. She’s also the mother of three children and has a passion for furthering diversity in the workplace. An initiative she’s helping to further by volunteering at the Israel-Palestinian Economic Initiative led by the World Economic Forum. In her spare time, she also enjoys bike riding.

Savage X Fenty 

Born: 2021

Valuation: $3B

Founded by: Robyn Rihanna Fenty (aka Rihanna)

Headquarters: USA

Founded in 2018 by none other than Barbadian-born singer and entrepreneur Rihanna, Savage X Fenty is a body-positive lingerie brand that celebrates confidence and inclusivity. According to Forbes, the company is on its way to becoming a leader in its market by 2025, proving that values like accessibility, diversity and inclusion are profitable. 

Meet the founder

Best known for her career as a singer and actress, Robyn Fenty is also a fashion designer and entrepreneur. In 2021, she was named the wealthiest female musician in the world by Forbes at an estimated worth of over $1,7B. 

Her accolades as an entertainer include nine Grammy Awards, 13 American Music Awards and 12 Billboard Music Awards (just to name a few). She was also named “Best-Selling Digital Singles Artist of All Time” by Billboard and is a co-owner of the music streaming service Tidal

In 2019, she became the first woman of colour to create an original brand for fashion group LVMH as CEO and creative director of her company Fenty. She’s also the founder of Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin, both driven by the same values of diversity and inclusivity as Savage X Fenty. 

Her philanthropic activities include a number of non-profit concerts throughout her career, starting the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in honour of her grandparents and earning the NAACP President’s Award in 2020. 

BlockFi 

Born: 2021

Valuation: $3B

Founded by: Flori Marquez

Headquarters: USA

BlockFi is a blockchain-driven wealth management platform for crypto investors. The company offers loans backed by crypto assets and interest-earning accounts. Its BlockFi Trading service makes it easier for people to buy, sell and trade over 40 types of crypto assets and store them all in one place. 

Meet the founder

Flori Marquez earned her BS from Cornell University and is currently serving as SVP of operations at BlockFi. She made the Forbes 30 under 30 list and the Inc. Female Founders 100 list in 2021. When asked about her interest in Crypto, she explained:

“I am a child of Argentinian immigrants, and I think most people in the U.S. take for granted that we have access to a currency that isn’t being ripped apart by hyperinflation. We hope that through supporting this global crypto ecosystem and bringing traditional financial services products to global markets, it will have a huge impact on developing markets and nations.”

Marquez also has an interest in supporting the financial health of people who historically haven’t had access to generational wealth, particularly women. 

Athelas 

Born: 2022

Valuation: $1,5 billion 

Founded by: Deepika Bodapati, Tanay Tandon

Headquarters: USA

Founded in 2016, Athelas provides software solutions that make it easier for healthcare organisations to implement smart medical billing, launch telehealth programs and achieve better outcomes. Its Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) enables clinicians to more effectively track and monitor patient health remotely, making things easier for both doctors and patients. 

Meet the co-founder

With a background in research at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Stanford University’s Multimodality Molecular Imaging Lab (MMIL), Deepika Bodapati is still deeply involved in the development and promotion of Athelas. 

Both she and her co-founder Tanay Tandon consider their ability to pay attention and listen, a valued superpower. 

Maven Clinic 

Born: 2021

Valuation: $1B

Founded by:  Kate Ryder

Headquarters: USA

Maven Clinic provides telemedicine focused on women’s and family health. Its holistic, virtual care model aims to fill the gap between in-person appointments and deliver better outcomes for patients at lower costs. Patients can choose from over 1400 practitioners and book an on-demand appointment or video chat. They can also message practitioners in between sessions. 

Health services at the Maven Clinic include preconception, fertility, maternity and paediatrics. 

Meet the founder

Sole founder, and current CEO of Maven Clinic Kate Ryder started her career as a finance and business journalist for publications like The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. She was also the ghostwriter behind former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s memoir depicting his experience during the 2008 financial crisis. 

After the memoir, her career took a turn into the world of venture capital, and she spent almost two years as an early-stage investor in London for Index Ventures. The experience gained would be of great value later on when raising funds to build the Maven Clinic. 

The idea for Maven Clinic was born from the wish to help first-time mothers navigate this pivotal time in their lives and get the support they need to stay in the workforce with fewer difficulties. As described by Ryder:

“This is where so much happens that creates gender inequality. It’s one of the most vulnerable times that so many people go through.”

Today, over 70% of Maven’s biggest investors are women, and they include Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman, and Mindy Kaling.

Final thoughts

Despite still being underrepresented in positions of leadership (especially women of colour), recent trends give us every reason for hope and optimism. 

A 2021 McKinsey study found that women aren’t only succeeding in leadership positions, they’re setting a new standard: 

  • Going above and beyond in support of their teams
  • Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace

Although, according to the study, these efforts are often overlooked, the positive outcomes they bring are undeniable, and their importance is increasingly recognised every day. 

Moreover, a growing number of women are thriving in industries not traditionally considered female, including finance and tech. According to the Female Founders Fund, we can expect to see a growing number of women leaders in areas like digital health and cybersecurity in the near future, spurred by web3 opportunities for growth and innovation. 

Female venture capitalists are also on the rise, currently accounting for about 15% of the general partners in VC firms - and they’re investing in other women

The final prognostic? The future has never been brighter for women in our corporate landscape, and we can’t wait to see how the next batch of female-founded unicorns helps change the world.    

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