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From Canva to Coursera: Meet female founders behind 7 unicorns

Are you ready for some cool stats? The number of unicorns led and founded by women in 2021 quadrupled year over year, reaching 83.

Women founded or co-founded many of the greatest unicorns of our time, and I didn’t know this about many of them (much to my regret).

Here’s a list of seven female founders who run companies that are changing the way we learn, care about our health, build communities, create, and more.

Daphne Koller

Company: Coursera.

Sector: Online education.

Country: United States.

Market capitalization: $2.7 billion (Sept. 5, 2023).

Daphne Koller, Coursera co-founder. Photo: World Economic Forum / Wikipedia.

Coursera, co-founded by Daphne Koller in 2012, is an online learning platform that offers more than 5,800 courses, certificates, and degree programs from top universities and companies worldwide. More than 124 million people have used the service.

The co-founders have secured a total of $459 million over 14 funding rounds from VC firms, including New Enterprise Associates, Kleiner Perkins, Learn Capital, and Mindrock Capital. In 2019, the startup became a unicorn and also acquired, a software for learning.

In 2021, Coursera went public, raising $520 million through IPO.

Daphne Koller is a computer scientist and serial entrepreneur. She worked as a computer science professor at Stanford University before becoming an entrepreneur. After leaving Coursera, she co-founded an edtech company called Engageli and also founded Insitro, a drug discovery company.

“I would like to make it so that education was a right, and not a privilege.” — Daphne Koller.

Read more: 3 reasons why Flyer One Ventures invested in Filmustage.

Deepika Bodapati

Company: Athelas.

Sector: Health care.

Country: United States.

Valuation: $1.5 billion (January 2022).

Deepika Bodapati, Athelas co-founder. Photo: Medium / Deepika Bodapati.

Athelas, co-founded by Deepika Bodapati in 2016, is developing AI-driven tools for remote monitoring of chronically ill patients. Interesting fact: The company’s name, Athelas, was inspired by the healing herb in “The Lord of the Rings.”

Their flagship product is a device for blood testing, which provides real-time analysis of various metrics like blood weight, pressure, and glucose levels. The Athelas blood test can even help diagnose early-stage leukemia, potentially saving lives.

This technology allows doctors to track their patients’ health conditions 24/7 and helps reduce hospitalizations; more than 150,000 patients have used the service.

The startup has raised $150.1 million over five funding rounds from Tribe Capital, General Catalyst, Sequoia Capital, Y Combinator, Initialized Capital, Human Capital, and several other VC firms. It became a unicorn in 2022.

Deepika Bodapati is a research scientist with a background in molecular imaging at Stanford University. In her sophomore year, she teamed up with her childhood friend, Tanay Tandon, who specialized in machine learning at Stanford, to co-found Athelas.

“It’s this concept of making tools so cheap, so usable, that people can do it all the time. Only then can you actually get preventive care.” — Deepika Bodapati

Read more: ‘We’re growing 30% a month’: Startup Cargofy enters new EU countries, endures 2022.

Julia Hartz

Company: Eventbrite.

Sector: Event management.

Country: United States.

Market capitalization: $1 billion (Sept. 5, 2023).

Julia Hartz, Eventbrite co-founder. Photo: Stefan Wieland / Wikipedia.

Eventbrite, co-founded in 2006 by Julia Hartz, is an online platform that lets event organizers create event pages, manage ticketing and registration, and promote their events through integrated marketing tools. The platform also provides its users with analytics.

Hartz (and two other founders) started their company at a windowless phone closet located in a warehouse in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. They bootstrapped it for the first two years.

The startup has served as a platform for over five million events in nearly 180 countries. It now has more than 800 employees around the world.

Eventbrite has raised $557 million over 11 funding rounds from Tiger Global Management, Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, and some other VCs. The company joined the unicorn club in 2014.

In 2018, it went public, raising $230 million through IPO. The startup has acquired 10 companies, including ToneDen, Picatic, and Ticketfly.

Julia Hartz is an entrepreneur and investor who empowers women in tech. She was featured in the 40 Under 40 list by Fortune magazine, and was named one of Fortune magazine’s most powerful women entrepreneurs in 2013.

Hartz became Eventbrite CEO in 2016 and led its initial public offering.

“Every day, I work to drive Eventbrite’s mission to bring the world together through live experiences. From our company culture to our experience platform, everything we do is rooted in connection.” — Julia Hartz.

Read more: How to lead startup through crisis — Competera CEO Galkin.

Melanie Perkins

Company: Canva.

Sector: Web design.

Country: Australia.

Valuation: $25 billion (March 2023).

Melanie Perkins, Canva co-founder. Photo: Melanie Flickr/ Melanie Perkins.

Canva, co-founded by Melanie Perkins in 2013, is an intuitive online design platform that offers easy-to-use tools and templates to create stunning visuals without prior design experience. Recently, the company has also announced an array of AI features dubbed “Magic.”

As of March 2023, Canva boasts 125 million monthly users from 190 countries. The startup has raised $573 million over 15 funding rounds from VC firms T. Rowe Price, Franklin Templeton Investments, Bessemer Venture Partners, and others. It acquired 6 other startups, including Flourish, Kaleido, and Pixabay.

Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist and former Apple chief marketing evangelist, joined Canva as its chief evangelist in 2014. In 2018, the company became a unicorn. In 2023, it was recognized as one of the TIME100 most influential companies worldwide.

Canva aims to “be a force for good”: The startup joined the Pledge 1% movement and, to support people who live in extreme poverty, it partnered with GiveDirectly.

Melanie Perkins is a businesswoman, investor, philanthropist, and CEO of Canva from its foundation. In 2007, she founded her first company, Fusion Books, which is now the biggest publisher of yearbooks in Australia.

At one point, when trying to fundraise for Canva, she got rejected by 100 VCs. In 2022, Fortune magazine wrote Canva was “the world’s most valuable startup founded and led by a woman.”

“You have to believe in yourself and your vision for a very long time before anyone else will.” — Melanie Perkins.

Whitney Wolfe Herd

Company: Bumble.

Sector: Social networking.

Country: United States.

Market capitalization: $3.2 billion (Sept. 5, 2023).

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble co-founder. Photo:

Bumble, founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd in 2014 and led by her, is a social networking and dating app that prioritizes women’s empowerment and puts them in control of initiating conversations.

The platform has grown beyond just romance. It now includes Bumble BFF, a matching service for making friends (just friends), and Bumble Bizz, a platform for connecting with professionals.

The startup has secured $314 million over five funding rounds from the investor Priyanka Chopra and VC firms Accel, Able Partners, Headline, and Greycroft. The company went public in 2021, raising $2.2 billion. It has also acquired Fruitz, the dating app, and launched Bumble Fund that invests in female founders.

Whitney Wolfe Herd co-founded Tinder. But she later filed a lawsuit against it, alleging sexual harassment and discrimination, and left the company.

According to Forbes, Match Group (the owner of Tinder, OkCupid, and made two attempts in 2017 to buy out Bumble. Wolfe Herd declined the offers. Later, she led the company’s IPO, becoming the youngest woman to take a company public and the youngest woman to become a billionaire.

Herd was named as one of 2017’s and 2018’s Forbes 30 Under 30 and one of America’s Self-Made Women.

“I’m so proud of the community we’ve been able to bring together and the notion of women making the first move is no longer taboo, it’s no longer a scarlet letter to have a voice.” — Whitney Wolfe Herd.

Cristina Junqueira

Company: Nubank.

Sector: Digital banking.

Country: Brazil.

Market capitalization: $33.2 billion (Sept. 5, 2023).

Female founder: Cristina Junqueira.

Cristina Junqueira, Nubank co-founder. Photo: LinkedIn / Cristina Junqueira.

Nubank, co-founded by Cristina Junqueira in 2013, is a digital financial platform “with the mission to fight complexity” in the banking sector and provide user-friendly services. Since June 2021, the number of its customers has more than doubled, reaching over 85 million across Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

The startup has raised $4 billion over 15 funding rounds from Berkshire Hathaway, Morgan Stanley, International Finance Corporation, Goldman Sachs, and other investors. In 2018, Nubank became the third bank in Brazil to become a unicorn. In 2021, it went public and raised $2.6 billion.

Nubank has acquired six startups, including AI financial assistant Olivia and payment platform Spin Pay.

Cristina Junqueira, prior to launching Nubank, had worked at several financial firms, including Boston Consulting Group. She is the first Latin American woman to have become a self-made multimillionaire and the first Brazilian executive to be acknowledged by Fortune in their 40 Under 40 list.

“Pick a problem that hurts enough for enough people and go solve it — execution is much more important than the perfect idea.” — Cristina Junqueira.

Adi Tatarko

Company: Houzz.

Sector: Home design.

Country: United States.

Valuation: $4 billion (June 2017).

Adi Tatarko, Houzz co-founder. Photo: Facebook / Adi Tatarko.

Houzz, co-founded by Adi Tatarko in 2009, is an online platform that connects homeowners with interior design and remodeling professionals.

Adi Tatarko and another co-founder Alon Cohen were not “typical” founders: they are husband and wife, Israeli immigrants, who once decided to remodel their four-bedroom ranch house in Palo Alto, California. Having trouble making their dream home, the couple decided to create a website about home remodeling to help others. They were their own first clients.

This “side project” turned out to be a great venture: To date, the startup has raised $614 million over eight funding rounds from Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, New Enterprise Associates, GGV Capital, Comcast Ventures, and other VCs.

It became a unicorn in 2014. Over the years, it has acquired three companies: platform for construction contractors ConX, software for interior design business IvyMark, and gardening community GardenWeb.

Adi Tatarko had another tech business in the ‘90s in Israel and worked as a financial adviser before Houzz. She was included in Forbes’ list of America's Richest Self-Made Women.

“Renovating a home together is much more challenging than running a company together.” — Adi Tatarko.

Follow F1V on LinkedIn, where we publish advice, insights, and news about our portfolio companies.

Cover photo: Melanie Perkins / Flickr.


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