Last week I wrote an article entitled: ‘Where are the UK’s female unicorn bosses?’

It was partly prompted by GP Bullhound’s annual Titans of Tech report, which revealed the UK’s eight newest unicorns all have male CEOs.

The point of the column was to say that with fewer women working in the British tech industry, and businesses with all female founders receiving just 2 per cent of all VC funding, the situation is unlikely to change soon.

It sparked a huge response and several suggestions of how to tackle the problem.

Where are the UK’s female unicorn bosses?

One of the people to contact me was Hazel Moore, who is the chair and co-founder of international investment bank FirstCapital, which specialises in advising technology companies.

She was awarded an OBE in the 2017 New Years’ Honours list for services to entrepreneurship and innovation and is passionate about women in tech.

She said despite the lack of female UK unicorn CEOs, we should shine a light on the talented female leaders we do have.

“I’m a great believer in showcasing success stories and role models, to help to inspire the next generation,” she said.  “Let’s talk more about some of the female CEOs/founders of tech companies valued at $1bn.

“Clare Gilmartin, formerly CEO of Trainline; Vin Murria, founder of Advanced Computer Software; Zillah Byng-Thorne, formerly CEO of Future plc (and previously CEO of AutoTrader); Anne Boden, founder of Starling Bank; Catherine Wines who was one of the founders of Zepz (previously called WorldRemit), who sadly died in 2020; and Poppy Gustafsson, CEO of DarkTrace, which has a remarkably gender diverse leadership team, in sharp contrast to most tech firms.

“There’s also a great pipeline of female founders/CEOs in growth stage scaleups, who are potential future unicorns.  Let’s also talk more about them: some examples include Martina King, CEO of Featurespace; Tessa Clarke and Saasha Celestial-One, CEO and COO of Olio; Claire Davenport, CEO of Treatwell; Dr Mridula Pore, CEO of Peppy; Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram, CEO of Proximie; Prof Dame Clare Grey, co-founder of Nyobolt; Victoria van Leneep, co-founder of Lendable; and Jennifer Sundberg and Pippa Begg, co-founders and co-CEOs of Board Intelligence.”

Moore said the situation for female founders was improving – albeit ‘slowly’ – but was being hampered by a lack of female representation in venture and private equity firms which invest in these entrepreneurial businesses.

“This creates barriers for women seeking investment, but it is encouraging that there has been progress in this, especially at more junior levels (which represents the pipeline for the future) and in investment roles,” she said.

The 5 key barriers facing women in tech

“The first joint BVCA (British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association) and Level 20 study in 2018 found that just 6 per cent of senior investment roles were held by women in private equity.

“This has doubled in the five years since then to 12 per cent in the UK. Furthermore, the proportion of women in mid and junior-level roles is increasing at a faster rate.”

Hazel Moore’s comments got me thinking. Rather than focus on what’s missing (female UK unicorn leaders) let’s focus on the inspirational female leaders that we do have.

One such role model is Zandra Moore, CEO and co-founder of Leeds-based Panintelligence, who is on a mission to change the narrative.

“Grass roots practical support for female entrepreneurs and better access to capital at all stages of growth is the key,” she said.

“It’s not difficult, it just needs investment and support from the whole tech and investment ecosystem. I am determined to be a name on your list in the future Chris, you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Other names to watch include Jordan Brompton, co-founder of myenergi, one of the world’s fastest-growing renewable energy technology companies; Carrie Rose, chief executive of Rise at Seven; Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny; and Victoria Prew, CEO of London-based fashion rental marketplace HURR, which has just raised £7.9m in an investment round led by Praetura Ventures.

Jo Sheerin, who is a senior director at Alvarez & Marsal, said: “We need to break the bias of what an entrepreneur looks like for young people, investors and celebrate role models.”

Jane Booth, a director and North West head at UBS, made a similar point.  “We do need to do more to support those female founders who set up tech businesses,” she said. “The more mentorship and community support the more likely we will see positive stories.”