Entrepreneurs are notoriously optimistic, and women entrepreneurs are no exception: Midway through the year, a survey by Inc. and Fast Company found that 90 percent of female founders expected their business to improve over the next 12 months. It's not clear if reality matched that hopeful outlook, but 2019 certain gave women founders something to celebrate.
Here are five milestones reached by women entrepreneurs in 2019, listed in no particular order:
1. Alice puts ne'er do well investors on notice.
Some 65 percent of women entrepreneurs say they've experienced harassment or discrimination--and 46 percent said a banker or investors was to blame, according to the Inc. and Fast Company survey. Founders have almost no recourse if harassed by an investor. They can't even file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, because those apply to interactions between employers and employees.
Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, the co-founders of startup Alice, figured out a way to attack this in their most recent round of funding, announced October 16. Under the terms of that deal, the board members agree in advance to vote to oust any director who discriminates. Gore says Alice will make the language available to other entrepreneurs looking for the same protections.
2. Julie Wainwright takes The RealReal public.
Too few women can say they've both founded companies and taken them public without a male co-founder. Katrina Lake brought Stitchfix public in November of 2017. Then, in June of this year Julie Wainwright joined those elite ranks. The founder of luxury consignment site The RealReal took her company public on the Nasdaq, raising $300 million in the process. Shares priced at $20 and closed at $28.90 after the first day of trading. More recently, shares have hovered around $18. Wainwright had previously raised about $350 million in venture capital. That's a rarity in itself, because women-led companies get less than three percent of venture capital funding.
3. Harlem Capital raises money for underrepresented founders.
In December, Harlem Capital announced the close of its first fund, at $40 million. That's a big number for a first-time fund, and well over the firm's goal of $25 million. It's also impressive because Harlem's managing partners--Henri Pierre-Jacques and Jarrid Tingle, along with venture partners Brandon Bryant and John Henry--are black, and fewer than one percent of venture capitalists are black. It's good news for women because Harlem is committed to investing in under-represented founders. Their investments so far include B2B women's menstrual company Aunt Flow, gig economy marketplace Jobble, and pet wellness platform Wagmo.
4. Women get board seats (in California).
As of the end of 2019, at least one member of a California-based public company's board must be a woman, thanks to a law passed in 2018. By July 2021, companies with five directors will have to have at least two female boardmembers, and companies with six or more directors will have to have at least three women. According to Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on improving gender equality in the workplace, women currently make up about 21 percent of U.S. board seats, and about a quarter of the public companies in California have all-male boards.
While the law only applies to public companies, the results are expected to trickle down to private ones and lead to improved conditions for professional women. It's still common for companies to file to go public without any women on their boards.
5. More women-led companies hit the big time.
In 2018, 12 companies founded or co-founded by women achieved billion-dollar valuations, or so-called unicorn status. Although the final figures are not in, it looks like 2019 will easily beat those numbers. In just the first six months of 2019, there were 10 new unicorns founded or co-founded by women, including FabFitFun, Glossier, Rent the Runway, and Confluent. More recently, The RealReal and Guild Education completed financing valuing those companies at more than $1 billion. Canva raised money at a valuation of $3.2 billion. That should inspire every woman entrepreneur--and light a fire under the remaining investors who don't think they can find success backing women.