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Meet the female founders behind 7 VC-backed unicorns

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we are highlighting a few female founders in the VC industry who helped build unicorns in a variety of sectors across the US.

The last three years have shown an upward trend in the number of unicorns with at least one female founder, setting the pace for a potentially strong year for women changing the way things work in VC. Of the 22 companies whose valuations have passed the $1 billion mark so far this year, six of them were solely founded or co-founded by women.

That single-digit number might not sound like a great start for female founders working to close the gender gap in VC, but it is. Why? Because in 2018, roughly 11% of the total unicorns involved female founders, and as we wrap up the first quarter of 2019, that share has more than doubled to 27%.

This month saw two businesses founded solely by women become the latest unicorns on the block: Glossier reached billion-dollar status on March 19, and two days later, Rent the Runway followed. And as more female-led companies secure significant investments, the future is looking bright.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we’re highlighting several women who helped build unicorns in different sectors across the US and the companies they created.

Emily Weiss

Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss launched the beauty brand in 2014. She has actively used social media as a tool to understand consumer needs and preferences, launching her beauty products on Instagram before the New York-based business had its own website. Glossier, which offers skincare, makeup, body care, fragrances and other products, has received nearly $200 million in financing, including the $100 million Series D this month that valued the company at $1.2 billion. Its backers include Sequoia, Forerunner Ventures, IVP, Thrive Capital and Index Ventures. Weiss is a graduate of New York University.

Neha Narkhede

Neha Narkhede is a co-founder and the CTO of Confluent, a data streaming specialist based in Palo Alto. She held various tech roles at Oracle and LinkedIn before co-founding Confluent in 2014. The business hit a $2.5 billion valuation after it raised $125 million in a Series D led by Sequoia in January. Confluent provides a platform based on open-source software used by companies to move data from isolated systems into real-time pipelines. Backed by investors including Benchmark and Index Ventures, the business has raised more than $200 million in VC funding to date. Narkhede is an alumna of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Cristina Fonseca

Talkdesk, which provides a contact-center platform to help companies with customer service, was co-founded in 2011 by Cristina Fonseca, who previously co-founded Bouncely and VEEP and also spent two years with the World Economic Forum. Talkdesk, based in the Bay Area, is valued at an estimated $1 billion after it raised a $100 million Series B in a round led by Viking Global Investors in October last year. In 2016, Fonseca announced that she was stepping down from handling the daily operations at the company to pursue other long-running projects. She is currently a venture partner at Indico Capital Partners, a Portugal-based VC firm she co-founded in 2017, which focuses on early-stage tech investments in sectors including SaaS, AI, fintech and cybersecurity.

Jennifer Hyman & Jennifer Fleiss
Rent the Runway

Launched in 2009, Rent the Runway provides an online platform for users to rent designer clothes and accessories. Jennifer Hyman, who serves as CEO, co-founded the business in 2009 with her Harvard Business School classmate Jennifer Fleiss. The New York-based business is one of this year’s newest unicorns, having reached a $1 billion valuation upon raising $125 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton Investments and Bain Capital Ventures last week. Fleiss and Hyman have also partnered with UBS and launched a 5-week accelerator program called Project Entrepreneur to encourage other women to establish their own disruptive businesses. Fleiss is also a co-founder and CEO at Jetblack, which provides a concierge-style shopping experience.

Linda Avey & Anne Wojcicki

Personal genetics company 23andMe joined the unicorn club in 2015. The company’s valuation has jumped to $2.5 billion after it raised a $300 million round led by GSK last year. Co-founded by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza and Anne Wojcicki, who serves as CEO, the company’s method of direct-to-consumer genetic testing has skyrocketed in popularity since its launch in 2007. Wojcicki worked as a biotech analyst for several years before co-founding the company. Avey is also a co-founder and CEO at, a developer of a digital platform designed to track and analyze personal health, and serves on the Board of Fellows at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Amy Pressman

Amy Pressman is a co-founder and board member at Medallia, the creator of a customer experience management platform. Backed by investors including Sequoia and RGM Capital, the business raised a $70 million Series F at an estimated valuation of $2.4 billion in February. Headquartered in San Mateo, CA, the company’s clientele includes Four Seasons, Sephora and Sony, and reportedly plans to go public sometime this year. Pressman is a graduate of Harvard University and the Stanford University School of Business, and has worked for Goldman Sachs and BCG before she co-founded Medallia in 2001. She also served in the Peace Corps.

Nichole Mustard
Credit Karma

Nichole Mustard is a co-founder and the chief revenue officer of Credit Karma, which provides consumers with free access and monitoring to their credit scores and financial accounts. Mustard served as a VP of business development for roughly seven years and was later appointed as the chief revenue officer in 2014. The Bay Area business was valued at an estimated $4 billion after it raised a $500 million round in March of last year. Established in 2007, Credit Karma is backed by investors including Google Capital, Tiger Global and Ribbit Capital. Before founding the company, Mustard led the financial service sales team at She’s a graduate of Miami University in Ohio.

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    Written by Priyamvada Mathur
    Priyamvada Mathur writes about venture capital at PitchBook.

    She is an Indian chartered accountant and has studied economics and journalism.
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