Female-led exits in Europe hit new record: the data


2021 was a memorable year for women entrepreneurs. In the US Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe herd became the youngest woman to ever take a company public – photographed ringing the market bell with her young son proudly wedged on her hip. 23&me and Spanx also secured exits made by their female CEOs billionaires.

Although not quite as headline-grabbing, women in Europe also had a record year – 2021 saw more “successful” female-led exits than ever before, reaching 23 in total, according to Sifted research.

At least 87 female co-founders have overseen successful exits across Europe over the past 15 years, including 19 female-led IPOs.* The continent should not, however, declare the patriarchy defeated too soon: the number of successful male-only exits over the same period totals 899 .

This analysis was performed by Sifted using dealroom data. As an indicator of “success,” we only counted female entrepreneurs who have exited through IPOs, takeovers, or takeovers for over €20 million since 2005. Since not all companies disclose their exit price, we also counted companies whose last valuation before the sale was €20 million or more. We have included startups with at least one co-founder.

What the data tells us

There are other interesting nuggets in this European dataset of female exits:

  • The average time for a top exit for women is 6.8 years.
  • Overall, the value of European outflows of women since 2005 has been €22.3 billion, largely due to IPOs.
  • The average takeover price was 218 million euros, based on the few public exit reviews.
  • The sector with the most female dropouts was healthtech, followed by fintech.
  • The largest IPO was BioNTech; The largest disclosed acquisition was Ganymed Pharmaceuticals at $1.25 billion – both founded by Ozlem Türeci.
  • Apple has acquired several women-owned companies in Europe. in 2011, It bought Barcelona-based Vilynx, co-founded by Elisenda Bou, for around €40m. Then bought it in 2015 mUsic and social data analytics startup Semetric for about 50 million dollars, Co-founded by Marie-Alicia Chang.
  • The UK leads – consistent with the fact that it also attracts the most funds

Despite the UK having the highest number of female-led startup exits in Europe, only 15% of high growth UK companies have had a female co-founder since 2011. to Beauhurst. meanwhile jOnly 10% of UK IPOs had a female founder and of the 20 largest IPOs of all time in the UK only two were founded by women.

  • Europe lags behind the global statistics. Female-led exits accounted for around 3.8% of all European exits from companies founded after 2000; the global figure was 5% while the US counted 5.8%.
  • Worldwide, tThis is what the Dealroom database shows 584 female-led startups “successfully” exited in the same period. During the same period, the US counted 395 exits founded by women worth over 20 million euros.

Winners: Top 10 (by known exit value)

Also worth tagging the 10 women who oversaw this biggest Exits in Europe since 2005.

The ranking according to Dealroom data is as follows:

1/ Özlem Türeci

Accompaniment: Ganymede pharmaceuticals; BioNTech
Headquarters: Mainz, Germany
Founding year: 2001; 2008
Year of exit: 2016; 2019

Exit Details: $1.4B Acquisition by Astellas Pharma, $150M IPO ($3.4B Valuation)
co-founder: Ugur Sahin, Christopher Huber

2/ Andrea Spezzi

Accompaniment: Orchard Therapeutics
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Founding year: 2015
Year of exit: 2018
Exit Details: $200M IPO (valued at $1.3B)
co-founder: Bobby Kaspar

3/ Pernilla Nyrensten

Accompaniment: revolution race
Headquarters: BorasSweden (First woman to be listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange)
Founding year: 2013
Year of exit: 2021
Exit Details: $1 billion initial public offering
co-founder: Nicholas Nyrensten

4/ Ilise Lombardo

Accompaniment: Arvelle Therapeutics
Headquarters: Zug, Switzerland
Founding year: 2019
Year of exit: 2021
Exit Details: $960 million acquisition by Angelini Pharma
co-founder: Gregory Weinhoff

5/ Ekaterina Malievksaia

Accompaniment: compass paths
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Founding year: 2016
Year of exit: 2020
Exit Details: $544 million IPO
co-founder: George Goldsmith, Lars Christian Wilde

6/ Romina Savova

Accompaniment: PensionBee
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Founding year: 2014
Year of exit: 2021
Exit Details: $85M IPO ($550M Valuation)

7/ Annegret Baey-Diepolder & Christine Schuberth-Wagner

Accompaniment: Rigontec
Headquarters: Bonn, Germany
Founding year: 2014
Year of exit: 2017
Exit Details: $525m Acquisition by Merck
co-founder: Gunther Hartmann, Marcel Renn

8/Sarah Gilbert

Accompaniment: Vaccitech
Headquarters: Oxford, UK
Founding year: 2016
Year of exit: 2021
Exit Details: $110m IPO ($464m valuation)
co-founder: Adrian Hill KBE

9/ May-Britt Zocca & Inge Marie Svane

Accompaniment: IO Biotech
Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark
Founding year: 2015
Year of exit: 2021
Exit Details: $100M IPO (valued at $388M)
co-founder: Mads Hald Andersen

10/ Elvire Gouzé

Accompaniment: Therachon
Headquarters: Basel, Switzerland
Founding year: 2014
Year of exit: 2019
Exit Details: $340 million acquisition by Pfizer
co-founder: Luca Santarelli

Notable Mentions

  • Jessica Nilsson, Navina Pernsteiner and Chloe Macintosh co-founded HelloFresh, Sono Motors and made.com respectively, but all left their companies before exiting.
  • Poppy Gustafsson is Darktrace’s CEO and Overseer a $2 billion IPO last year, but isn’t technically a founder. Other prominent executives who oversaw their company’s exit were Nicole Eagan and Cathy Graham.
  • Other women worth noting are those whose companies have exited but were founded before 2000 (hence outside our criteria). These include the founders of TomTom (founded 1991, left 2005), Neopets (founded 1999, left 2005) and Bodas.net (founded 1995, closed 2015).

The next generation

The data shows a tiny number of female churn over nearly two decades. Given the pace of early-stage investment in women in Europe, this should come as no surprise.

Just last year 1.1% of venture deals in Europe went to all-female founding teams, according to Dealroom. The lack of funds raised by women is related not only to the number of their exits, but also to theirs size.

Nevertheless, a new wave of female dropouts could be on the way in Europe. 2022 has already got off to a good start when French ready meal delivery company Frichti, founded by Julia Bijaoui, was acquired by gorillas.

Today, 25% of UK high growth companies have a female founder to Beauhurst, with the highest concentration in Scotland. Among the top bets is Starling’s Anne Boden, who has hinted that she is considering listing her fintech unicorn this year.

In addition, the next exits led by women could be disproportionate to the amount raised.

Indeed, in 2019 and 2020, a pitch book analysis of US startups found that “the exit rate of female CEOs has increased by 30%, while the number of male CEOs has decreased by 44%.” In other words wOmen not only leave faster, but also quickly close the value gap with men.

The VC “Boys Club” is also slowly being reduced financially. Over the past year, Europe welcomed a number of dedicated women’s funds, including UK’s Pink Salt Ventures and Germany’s Auxxo. They say their goal is to fund the next generation of “self-made billionaires” who build great companies — and then sell them.

In addition, there is a campaign led by Polish VC Kinga Stanislawska to get the European Commission to allocate €3 billion to risk companies run by women.

High on the list could be Europe’s growing pool of co-founders who have already proven themselves. Below are Kim Nilsson (who previously managed Pivigo), Riya Grover (who previously managed Feedr), Alicia Navarro (who previously managed Skimlinks), and Sophie Adelman (who previously managed Multiverse).

Other Resources

  • In the US, the exit value of companies founded by women is growing, reaching $60 billion last year


*Note on methodology
  • Headquarters in Europe
  • Introduced in or after 2000 (to account for long-term exit iterations)
  • Have at least one founder
  • Exit at over €20m
  • If no exit, then valued at over €20 million in the last round of financing
  • Exit through one of the following: IPO, takeover, takeover

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