Ireland leads Europe for women-founded start-ups

Ireland outperforms most other European Regions in support for women-led start-ups.

Don’t break out the bubbly just yet, Ireland may lead in Europe for women-founded start-ups but there is a lot more work to be done.

That’s the consensus from leading industry figures commenting on the latest report from TechIreland that shows a strong performance by women founders in an erstwhile bleak funding landscape.

“There are reasons to be optimistic. The increase from a mere two companies with a female founder, raising €100-€300K in 2018, versus 35 companies last year is exciting”

A record number of 77 Irish women-founded start-ups fundraised last year, up from 72 in 2022.

However, the total amount dropped to €93m, down from a record €234m raised the previous year. 2023’s total was also the lowest in the last four years. This can be attributable to the global slowdown in start-up funding, and headwinds Irish tech companies are facing.

More work to be done

“This year for the first time, TechIreland’s report includes European benchmarking,” said John O’Dea, CEO of TechIreland.

“While it’s encouraging to see Ireland rank among the top European countries, there is a sharp drop in total funding. Global start-up funding slowed last year and we are not immune to such macroeconomic headwinds, but that said, there is clearly more work to be done to support our female founders.’’ 

Overall funding for Irish start-ups dropped last year, with average deal size falling 50%, similar to the drop in average seen among women-founded start-ups.

“That percentage being even higher for those companies with female founders,” agreed Aine Mulloy, HR manager with Amazon Web Services.

“However, there are reasons to be optimistic. The increase from a mere two companies, with a female founder, raising €100-€300K in 2018, versus 35 companies last year, is exciting.’’

Ireland ranks highest in Europe for women-founded start-ups

As Molloy said, there are reasons to be optimistic for women-led start-ups. The numbers for early stage rounds including pre-seed, seed and Series A have held up well and the average deal sizes in these early rounds has increased. Early stage support by Enterprise Ireland, LEOs and other programmes including NDRC’s Accelerator and Pre-Accelerators deserve credit for nurturing a strong pipeline of new start-ups. 

This year’s report also compares female founders’ funding in Ireland with other European countries. In per capita terms, Ireland gets the top spot for the number of rounds reported by women-founded start-ups.

Furthermore, even in absolute terms, we rank among the top 10 European countries for total investments raised as well as the number of deals. However, total investments that went into our women-founded start-ups seriously lags behind countries like the UK, Germany and France.

A deep-dive into the numbers shows that the overall drop in funding among women-founded start-ups came from a drop in the number of large rounds above €10m. In previous years, such large outliers had inflated total funding numbers whereas in 2023 there were only two such large outliers.

“We are continuing to strive for a 50% equal split of investments in male and female lead teams,” said Sinead Lonergan, Women in Business manager with Enterprise Ireland.

“The New Frontiers program continues to attract a high number of females on their Phase 2 programme. In 2022, 38% of the participants were women. This number is increasing year on year.’

Tipperary based Shorla Oncology raised €31m and Dublin’s ProVerum Medical raised €15m. As in most previous years, nearly half of all the funding raised in 2023 were made by the top two outliers. In 2022, the outliers made up 66% of the total, so 2023 totals were less skewed in that sense.

“Despite the recent market reset, we believe female founders in Ireland are prepared and able to take advantage of climate and AI research, funding and market opportunities in global markets and aid the transitions to an equitable AI future and a net zero economy,” said Faye Walsh Drouillard of WakeUp Capital.

In terms of sectors, HealthTech continues to  top the table with 37 companies raising a total €77m, although the total raised dropped from €166m in 2022. Consistent with startup funding overall, Enterprise Solutions start-ups saw a sharp fall in funding with 9 start-ups raised just €2.9m, down from €43m by 16 the previous year. With no large outliers, FinTech also saw a drop in funding from €72m (2022) to €3.9m (2023). In 2022, TransferMate Global Payments had raised €66m. Most other sectors held up but from an already low baseline. 

From a regional perspective, about 50% of the total funding went into the regions outside Dublin, but a large share of the regions funding is made by one outlier as Tipperary’s Shorla Oncology raised €31.8m. Of the 77 women-founded companies that fundraised, 35 were based in the regions outside Dublin.

TechIreland said that the seeding of new start-ups in the regions is promising, and it is encouraging that the pipeline of young start-ups founded by women entrepreneurs is strong and growing in the regions. 

‘‘45% of the companies in Atlantic Bridge’s early-stage fund portfolio are female founded and/or have at least one female executive in the leadership team. This is up from 30% of the portfolio in 2002 and is almost three times the European benchmark,” added Helen McBreen from Atlantic Bridge.

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.