The International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women in the social, economic, cultural, and political arenas. A call to action towards gender equality is promoted, and awareness about women’s situation is raised around the globe on this date.
One of the most visible disparities of the economic situation of women is the low number of female entrepreneurs compared to male entrepreneurs. Out of over 40 unicorns in Latin America, only two have a female founder: Nubank and Kavak. Lack of networks, knowledge, access to capital, and high-value markets explain this entrepreneurial world gap.
According to a 2021 research by the global consultancy Gender Smart on Latin America, there is a $93M gap in access to financing for women. This disparity translates into female entrepreneurs raising on average $500K, while a male counterpart raises on average $12M. And globally, in 2020, only $2.3% of venture capital investments went to female-founded startups, according to Crunchbase.
On the other hand, another structural issue is that there are few women investors, as men dominate the investment world. Claire Díaz-Ortiz, a renowned Venture Capital Investor from Latin America and part of The Angel Collective, explains that the importance of having female investors is that they are up to three times more likely to invest in other women.
Latin America needs more significant incentives to create funds dedicated to women-led projects, and successful female investors’ and entrepreneurs’ stories must be made visible to become references.
This article features Latamlist’s top picks of startups and initiatives in Latin America that are already targeting the inequalities that a male-dominated society poses for women, especially those that support female entrepreneurs’ paths.
Laboratoria – Peru
Laboratoria is a Peruvian startup founded by Mariana Costa, Rodulfo Prieto, and Herman Marin that combines technology with social impact. The company runs programming bootcamps for women from underserved backgrounds to help them overcome societal barriers and unleash their potential.
The six-month bootcamps teach technical and life skills for women who still couldn’t build their professional careers. After the program, the company connects them to software developer and UX designer jobs to start their professional career. Companies that hire Laboratoria’s graduates build teams with a lens of diversity and inclusion that can make Latin America’s digital economy flourish.
Since its creation in 2014, Laboratoria counts with more than 2400 graduates, an impressive 85% employability, and a 2.7X average salary increase for students. Laboratoria’s mission is to transform the future of thousands of women in Latin America, providing them an opportunity to insert themselves into one of the most exciting and growing professional sectors in the world.
Jefa – Mexico
Emma Sanchez founded this fintech in Mexico to offer digital accounts specifically designed for women in Latin America. As a digital bank, it provides access to saving accounts, loans, insurance, easy payments, debit, and credit cards.
Jefa’s mission is to empower traditionally underserved and unbanked women. Fifty years ago, women couldn’t even open a bank account, but structural barriers still translate into 50% of women in Latin America still lacking access to bank accounts.
The platform uses gender-disaggregated data to build a service tailored to women’s distinctive financial behavior. Jefa is backed by the investors behind companies like Netflix, Robinhood, and Rappi, and in 2021 the startup raised a $2M seed round.
Theia – Brazil
Theia is a healthtech company built by and for mothers from Brazil. Through an online-to-offline model, Theia offers curated content, access to consultations with healthcare professionals, and an online support network in its platform.
The healthcare system was not designed with women’s needs as a priority. Not even the pregnancy healthcare system puts women at the center of care. For women, pregnancies arrive with fears and insecurities, as information is sometimes confusing or difficult to access, and not every woman has networks to lean in for help.
Flavia Deutsch, Theia’s co-founder and CEO, explains that 85% of women that decide to have their child through vaginal birth in the private healthcare system will end up having a C-section. This number reflects an almost complete disregard for women’s desires in a process that puts them in a vulnerable position where they should have agency to take such important decisions.
Theia’s mission is to provide a holistic experience for women throughout this process, accompanying them through pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.
We-Fi – The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative
We-Fi is a collaborative partnership among 14 governments, eight multilateral development banks, and other public and private sector stakeholders, hosted by the World Bank Group.
This initiative supports women entrepreneurs by helping them access financial products and services, offering them mentors, expanding their networks, and linking them to local and global markets.
Small and medium enterprises that women in developing countries own face difficulties accessing the capital they need: globally, the credit deficit is $1.5 trillion on average. Founded in 2017, We-Fi has unlocked financing for women-led businesses in developed countries with a funding of $354M.
WeXchange is a platform that connects women entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean with mentors and investors. After being founded in 2013 as an initiative of the IDB Lab (the innovation laboratory of the IDB), this platform has hosted 8 editions and 2700 participants.
WeXchange’s goal is to recognize and strengthen the position of women entrepreneurs. After analyzing the state of female entrepreneurship in Latin America, it became clear to WeXchange’s team that what women need most is a more robust network of contacts and mentoring.
With this mission in mind, WeXchange organizes annual forums where female entrepreneurs participate in training, inspirational talks, and business competitions to target this lack of connections.
The International Finance Corporation and We-Fi created IFC ScaleX, a performance-based initiative that awards up to $25k to business accelerators that helped women-led businesses raise equity financing.
According to research developed by the IFC and the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab, although women lead half of the startups that participate in accelerators, they still face unequal access to capital. This gap cannot be associated with differences in the quality of female or male-led startups, so it is visibly a consequence of biases investors still have.
This award provides financial incentives to encourage accelerators to help women fundraise capital for their businesses more actively. Recently, IFC ScaleX has launched a new call for applications.
WISE – Women in Stem Entrepreneurship
WISE is another initiative by the IDB Lab in partnership with IAE Business School. It seeks to facilitate the inclusion of more women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in STEM areas through different actions and resources.
Some of WISE’s goals are to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit among female university students, create high-impact ventures with technological components, facilitate women’s access to private financing, and generate diversity in the entrepreneurial system.
This initiative goes after its mission through partnerships with companies, local and national governments, universities, and civil society organizations. They also offer STEM Entrepreneurship Training courses, networks of mentors for early-stage STEM projects, organize an annual contest to showcase innovative projects, and provide a platform that connects women entrepreneurs to create synergies.
The Angel Collective
The Angel Collective is a group of leading women venture capitalists and angels who invest in female founders. The group has co-invested in 15+ deals on four continents, including Jefa, Neivor, Prometeo, and Yana.
According to a Boston Consulting Group analysis, the global economy could be boosted by $2.5 to $5 trillion if women and men participated equally in entrepreneurship. This poses a missed opportunity, as there is evidence that female-led startups outperform businesses that are led by men.
Female founders are more likely to receive funding when pitching to a female investing partner. Unfortunately, less than 10% of all VC investing partners globally are women. This group seeks to help women entrepreneurs connect with the right investors and defines itself as a “women’s whisper network.”