When it comes to female founders, the numbers are pretty much dismal everywhere in terms of venture capital raised and startups created. But throw in a science connection, another area where women are underrepresented, and you have a potential startup double whammy.
But at the F For Femme conference at Station F, female founders were center stage. I had a chance to interview three extraordinary founders who are working on massive challenges:
- Aude Guo, Co-founder and CEO of InnovaFeed, which is using insects to produce alternative animal feed.
- Lubomila Jordanova, Co-founder and CEO of Plan A, which is helping companies reduce their carbon footprint.
- Cindy Demichel, Founder and CEO of Celsius Energy, which is helping buildings generate geo-energy.
During the conference, we focused mainly on the subject of what it takes to scale a startup that is tackling climate issues. But before and after the session, we also had some animated conversations about the particular challenge of hiring women into these companies – even when the founder is a woman.
"Greentech is perceived as being dominated by men, even more so than the general tech industry," Jordanova said. "These are not perceived as 'women jobs'".
The normal challenges in terms of things like fundraising are also compounded because investors still see climate-related startups as particularly risky and unproven as a sector.
"Investors don't understand the thesis, and it's seen as more complex," she said.
Innovafeed is at the other end of the spectrum, having raised €205 million to fuel the development of its factories. Guo, who has a background in engineering, said she didn't personally feel pressure around funding because her co-founding team had more experience in that area.
But having money doesn't solve the challenge of gender balance. Guo said the company struggled at times to recruit women and had to rethink the way it described itself.
"We had to adapt the way you promote what you’re doing," Guo said. "We changed the way we communicated around our project to focus less on roles and careers and focused more on purpose. I think the language we use is important."
Demichel said Celsius has set a goal of 50% women on the team, but has not hit that mark. Convincing women to even apply for jobs at the company remains challenging.
"We have to go the extra mile," she said. "You have to make sure you have one female name when a job opens because you get 20 male applicants. When you advertise your values and mission at the same level of skills required, you have more women applying. But then I still have to go everywhere, ads, headhunters, my network, to find them. If you want a woman, you have to hunt them."