As is the case with much of the business world, in the life sciences industry, venture capital (VC) funding has historically been controlled by men (and what’s more, directed towards male-led businesses). However, as women make tremendous strides in breaking the venture capital barrier, the tide is finally turning with business and investment becoming increasingly attainable to all-female life sciences teams.
Though VC remains a male-dominated industry, this trend has started to see the life sciences become a more level playing field.
Here, we’ll further explore the latest reports and data surrounding VC and the life sciences – and its wider impact on the sector. Read on for more on how women in the life sciences can continue to see investment in their projects – and become agents for change in a male-dominated industry.
Venture capital for women in business – a recent history
In 2019, financial data firm Pitchbrook showed a boom year for female-driven VC raising, with $17.2 billion raised by female teams looking for investment to get their projects off the ground.
Although this figure sounds impressive in its own right, in context it shows room for progress; this investment was just 2.8% of the total capital placed in venture capitalist supported startups in the USA.
The same year, a report by the British Business Bank found that for every £1 of VC investment in the UK, only 1p went to all-female founding teams – compared to a whopping 89p per £1 for all-male teams. So while the amount that is being invested in female-led initiatives is indeed increasing, there is still a long way to go before any kind of equality is achieved.
VC in the life sciences – all is not lost
In the life sciences, on the other hand, women are thriving, with the British Business Bank finding that all-female and all-male teams in healthcare device and supply companies were found to have both received an equal 5% funding share of VC capital. Meanwhile, all-female applicant teams in pharma and biotech won 10% of funding, against 7% for all-male teams.
What’s does this mean for women in the life sciences seeking VC funding?
One of four women in the biopharma sector to have founded their own venture capital group, Geeta Vemuri set up VC Agent Capital having already gained significant experience in her field. She’s now working to raise the expectations of women in the industry hoping to attract VC funding and to change expectations set by a previously male-dominated industry. She says that healthcare investment should be something that comes naturally to women, and that this should be set to grow their influence in the life sciences sector overall in the coming years. Most domestic healthcare decisions are still made by women, giving them a naturally strong platform to make their thoughts and voices heard. Women, she explained, had the experience and insight to see how things could be done better in healthcare, drawing on their own day to day experiences.
Vemuri will be seeking to support companies that Angel Capital supports with investment, seeking to raise both the prospects and the confidence of the women involved so that a stronger return against the investment is maximised. She explained that VCs naturally recognise great ideas and that it was naturally in their interests for entrepreneurs to succeed.
Change starts from the top, so what does this mean for women in VC?
Dr Uzma Choudry (Octopus Ventures) is a VC investor who drives the firm’s investments in life sciences. With a career in photochemistry and synthetic biology research, Choudry joined the firm to assess new technologies being developed at the University of Manchester.
As part of her role, Choudry champions a need for diversity within businesses and plays an active and visible role at Octopus, taking on the same opportunities in decision making and chairing meetings as her male colleagues.
According to Choudry, it’s workplace diversity that overall results in better business, with research showing how diverse influences and backgrounds result in higher performance. Gender balance is on the one hand a huge part of this argument, with female input at the end of the VC process helping make ground-breaking products to appeal better to the needs of other women (such as recent Octopus investments including a discreet breast pump and a pelvic floor trainer).
The future is bright for the life sciences – but it’s not there just yet
With more effort being put into widening the appeal of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, and junior roles in life sciences and VC funding increasingly being taken up by women, there is plenty of opportunity for this positive trend to continue. However, as senior roles continue to be taken by their male counterparts in life sciences VC organisations, there is still much to be done in welcoming true diversity at all levels.
There are seemingly endless benefits for venture capital to open up to female and other minority candidates, which as we’ve already seen is paving the way for investment in female-led life science businesses. Let’s hope this will produce the catalyst for change the industry is so desperately seeking, and we’ll see more and more women inspired to take the lead.
Want to find out more about how venture capital can fund your business, or how (and where) to submit a successful pitch? Book a consultation with ScaleX today to discuss your possibilities and best route forward.