Agri-foodtech female leaders struggle to attract investment: report

[LONDON] Female entrepreneurs in the food and agricultural technology industry received a tiny fraction of the US$16.9 billion investment deals secured worldwide in 2018, a new report said on Thursday.

Called Money Where Our Mouths Are, it is the first-ever study to document funding inequality for women trying to pave the way in this growing, innovative sector.

While companies working on food and agricultural technology raised a record US$16.9 billion globally last year, up 43 per cent from 2017, start-ups with at least one female founder represented only 16 per cent of those deals and received just 5 per cent of investments.

Agri-foodtech includes a wide range of startups and social enterprises that specialise, for example, in recycling waste, redistributing supermarket and restaurant food surplus or developing sustainable food packaging.

The situation was even worse for female founders, who received only 3 per cent of investments and were involved in just 7 per cent of deals, the report found.

"You are held to a different standard when talking to potential investors," Amy Yoder, chief executive of US organic fertiliser maker Anuvia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Her Florida-based company makes fertilisers using waste from households and the food industry.

Other female entrepreneurs interviewed in the report echoed Ms Yoder's views.

"Some of our male colleagues don't get asked about revenue – they can be aspirational," said Kellee James, co-founder and chief executive of Mercaris, a market data service and trading platform for organic, non-genetically modified products.

"When we pitch, we have to prove the numbers," she said.

Overall funding for female-led startups slumped by 37 per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to the report.

"The results show we have a lot to do to support women leaders in agri-foodtech," said Sanjeev Krishnan, managing director at S2G Ventures, which helped fund the study.

"There is unconscious bias men have when making risk decisions," he said, adding "We need more diversity."

On Wednesday Melinda Gates pledged US$1 billion to address gender inequality in support of women-led enterprises and the mobilisation of women to positions of power and influence.

While women receive less capital than men, their businesses end up delivering far higher revenue - more than twice as much per dollar invested than those founded by men, according to Boston Consulting Group.

In the technology sector, women-led startups have shown to be more capital-efficient, achieving 35 per cent higher return on investment than male-owned companies.