A competition to find the best new female entrepreneurs has been launched by Microsoft.
The two winners of the M12 Female Founders Competition will be share a total prize of $4 million in venture funding and gain access to technology resources and mentoring.
It is designed to raise awareness of female founders in the technology sector, unearth companies that are tackling critical business problems and increase the diversity in the Microsoft’s investment portfolio.
Just 13% of the most powerful people in the UK venture capital sector are female, according to research from the British Venture Capital Association, Diversity VC and Craft.io. Two thirds of venture capital firms in this country – which collectively invested nearly $5 billion into start-ups last year – have not had a single female decision maker at partner level or equivalent.
The M12 competition, which is also being funded by the EQT Ventures fund and Silicon Valley Bank, is open to entrepreneurs in Europe, US, Canada and Israel.
Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice-President of Business Development at Microsoft said: “We formed M12 to make smart bets on innovative people and their ideas, and the Female Founders Competition is an extension of that mandate. This isn’t about checking a box; it’s an opportunity to remind the VC community that investing in women is more than just good values, it’s good business.”
M12, formerly known as Microsoft Ventures, is the technology company’s investment business. Made up of experienced venture capitalists and Microsoft veterans, it has made more than 50 investments in just two years in areas ranging from cybersecurity and artificial intelligence/machine learning to industrial drones and 3D printing.
Companies that are eligible to enter must have at least one female founder, have raised no more than $4m in equity funding or loans and offer or intend to release a product, service or platform that addresses a critical business problem.
A panel of judges will whittle the entrants down to 10. These will be invited to pitch their start-up in person in the final, which will be held this Autumn.