According to latest data by Beauhurst and FT, female entrepreneurs raised close to 25% of all equity rounds in the UK private markets last year (doubling the proportion in 2011). However on value-weighted basis, this still represents only 15p in every £1 deployed. Despite the low starting point, recent years have seen an increasing number of female founders starting companies across a variety of sectors, including consumer, financial services, software and fem-tech.
To celebrate their success, we have put together a shortlist of the top 50 female entrepreneurs in the UK today - ranked by the total amount of investment secured, rate of growth and exits delivered by their companies. As always, you can see the interactive version of this list on our platform at listAlpha.com.
Dana Tobak is a serial entrepreneur who is behind two of Britain’s challenger broadband networks. The MIT-educated New Yorker co-founded Be Broadband, an early entrant in the superfast broadband market, in 2005 and sold it to O2 for £50m two years later. Later, Tobak co-founded Hyperoptic, the first company to offer 1000 mbps download speeds in the UK. The company, which has 43 towns and cities connected to its fibre network, has attracted investment from George Soros, Mubadala and buyout firm KKR. The latter took control in 2019, valuing the business at £500m.
Gustafsson, a qualified chartered accountant, founded Darktrace after two years at UK tech group Autonomy. She secured early backing from former Autonomy boss Mike Lynch’s Invoke Capital, and Lynch retains a stake. Under her leadership, the company has experienced significant growth and global expansion, with 6,800 customers and 2,000 employees worldwide. She was named Vodafone’s Woman of the Year for Technology and Innovation in 2020, Tech Businesswoman of the Year at the UK Tech Awards 2019 and won the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards 2019. Together with Darktrace CTO Jack Stockdale, Poppy was awarded an OBE for services to cyber security in 2019. She is a qualified chartered accountant, and holds a BSc in Mathematics from the University of Sheffield.
Marcia Kilgore is Founder of Beauty Pie. Through its fully digital marketplace, Beauty Pie sells luxury beauty products without luxury beauty prices, by sourcing from manufacturers and cutting out intermediaries. Her ventures include industry revolutionising Bliss Spa, sold to LVMH after only three years from its launch; bath, body and cosmetics brand Soap & Glory, sold to British Drugstore giant Alliance Boots/Walgreen; biomechanics meets fashion footwear brand FitFlop; and naturally-derived bath & body product brand Soaper Duper. Most recently, in October 2016, Kilgore founded Beauty Pie, her radical new luxury beauty product buyers’ club, aimed at democratising the luxury beauty industry by disrupting the existing business model.
Anne Boden is the Founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a mobile-based regulated bank that allows users to keep better track of their finances. After 30 years at some of the world’s biggest financial institutions, she founded Starling “to offer people a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past.” Based on her background in computer science, she saw an opportunity for app-based real-time finance management; Starling Bank has been a key player in this space since 2014.
Savova, who spent her career at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Credit Benchmark, founded the UK online pension provider in 2014 with backing from State Street. Her aim was to simplify savings after finding it difficult to transfer her own pension. PensionBee, which helps people track down old plans and consolidate them, is now worth £315m after listing this year, and expects to be profitable by the end of 2023. Savova retains the largest stake in the business at 36 per cent.
Alexandra Margolis is the Co-Founder & Creative Director of price comparison site Carwow. The business was founded in 2015 out of the simple idea that buying a car should be an enjoyable process. Free and easy to use, people can purchase and lease cars from local and national dealerships without hassle. The company is backed by Accel, Balderton Capital, Crowdcube, Daimler, Episode 1, Hercules Capital, Samos Investments, and Vitruvian Partners among others. It has raised over £120m across eight fundraisings to date and was featured in Top 100 – Britain’s Fastest Growing Businesses, BusinessCloud 100 eCommerce in 2017 and Trailblazers in 2020.
Chen and husband Chris Forbes founded Cheeky Panda in 2016 to provide bamboo-based alternatives to toilet paper and other hygiene products, boasting low emissions and plastic-free packaging. The company, which has raised £10m, including through crowdfunding on the Seedrs platform, is now valued at £75m and is working towards a listing on London’s junior market next year. Chen worked in global supply chains and facilities and founded a footwear brand before establishing Cheeky Panda, which she said took “passion and dedication and a lot of planning”.
Part of a wave of start-ups offering greener consumer goods, Smol delivers subscription-based laundry and cleaning products to households in the UK and Europe. It uses plastic-free packaging and concentrated products to cut transport emissions. After 20 years at Unilever, Quazi founded the company with former colleague, Nick Green. Their aim was to solve the “eco conundrum” facing people who wanted to buy sustainable products but often had to pay more or sacrifice effectiveness. This year Smol raised $34m from investors including Google Ventures and Balderton Capital.
Elvie is attempting to dispel breastfeeding taboos through the pioneering “femtech” firm, co-founded by Tania Boler and Alexander Asseily. Under Boler’s leadership the women’s health company has launched silent wearable and hands-free breast pumps and a pelvic floor exercise device and is working towards an IPO within three years. “When I first started, the word ‘femtech’ did not exist and now the industry is valued at $50bn,” she said. Elvie has received investment from Icap founder Michael Spencer and Octopus Ventures.
Pollinate provides a software platform for banks to offer to small- and medium-sized businesses, where they can process transactions and manage services such as loyalty programmes. Roach Canning co-founded the company with others including Alastair Lukies, its current chief executive, and has secured investment from Natwest Group, Insight Partners and National Australia Group. She serves as its chief product and marketing officer, and has previously held roles at loyalty card provider Nectar and Visa Europe
[See the rest of the list (no. 11-50) on the listAlpha platform]
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