Nani Gordon and Luciana Ramos, founders of
Cash-in, founded by Nani Gordon and Luciana Ramos, is one of the Brazilian startups that are managing to break through the gender barrier. Photo:

This is a man's world, even among startups. Attracting investments to women-led businesses may be the key to change that

In Brazil, only 8.3% of the 12,000 startups mapped by Distrito have women as partners. On the other hand, 66.5% have only men in this position

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Currently, 9.3 million women (34% of the country’s total formal and informal entrepreneurs) are in charge of a business in Brazil. Even within the world of the new economy, the environment is markedly masculine. Only one third of the 12,000 startups mapped by the open innovation company Distrito in the country have women as part of the corporate structure, in the role of founders, employees with shares or even investors. In addition, 66.5% of these companies have only men as partners, while only 8.3% have a corporate structure formed strictly by women.

Among the Brazilian fintechs the challenging scenario is repeated: 90% of the entrepreneurs are men; 7%, women, according to the Fintech Deep Dive survey, conducted by the Brazilian Association of Fintechs (ABFintechs), in partnership with PWC.

Two rising movements in Brazil can help change this reality. The first concerns social businesses and associations dedicated to encouraging and training women for entrepreneurship. The second movement happens in the venture capital environment: as more investors, specially female investors, bet on women-led companies, the Brazilian innovation ecosystem, the most mature in Latin America, may also become less and less masculine.

READ ALSO: How Latin American women are becoming entrepreneurs thanks to other Latin American women

To break the barrier of investment access for startups, Rita Spina, sister of Cassio Spina, both founders of Anjos do Brasil, the largest angel investor network in Brazil, created the Women Investors Angel (MIA) initiative. Alongside with Ana Fontes and Camila Farani, Rita has already gathered 120 female investors who preferentially put their money on ventures led by women.

“The goal is to offer more investment options for women, since 95% of investors are men, who end up investing in ventures led by white upper middle class men, in the so-called unconscious bias. We do educational work explaining what the angel investment environment is. After five years, it became clear that investing in women’s businesses is feasible,” explains Camila Farani.

Betting on business led by women also means investing with a sense of purpose.

“The most striking thing about the profile of women entrepreneurs is the driving force that moves them: a real need to take care of their families. In Brazil, 48% of women micro-entrepreneurs created their company out of necessity compared to 37% among men,” points out Mariana Deperon, CEO of Tree Diversidade, a consultancy which helps organizations to build more diverse and inclusive environments.

The company was created in 2017 by Mariana and Letícia Rodrigues. “We know that it all starts with raising awareness, with a lecture. In 2019 we reached over 2,000 people, benefiting 674 women. But organizations cannot and should not act only through these events,” stresses Mariana.

READ ALSO: GDP growth in Latin America and the Caribbean affects gender equality, shows ECLAC report

The fund that supports women with contributions of over $1 million

Other companies that support the innovation ecosystem in Brazil are also beginning to wake up to the need for greater diversity within organizations. Microsoft Participações, Microsoft‘s Brazilian investment holding company, is one of them.

Last year the company launched, in partnership with the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service – Sebrae, the corporate venture manager Bertha Capital and the venture capital firm Belvedere, the Women Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative. The project includes the WE Ventures fund, with BRL 50 million (over $10 million) available for investments in startups that have at least one woman as a partner, with at least 20% equity interest, and the WE Impact, the startup accelerator of the initiative. 

“We had already created a seed capital fund in 2014, but we realized that the 15 companies supported did not have a female partner”, explains Franklin Lights, vice president of Microsoft Participações.

This Thursday, following the International Women’s Day, WE announced its first two investments: Pack ID, a startup whose technology helps companies in the food distribution chain to monitor temperature and humidity in real time, reducing losses and costs; and WE Impact itself, which will be the fund’s vehicle for strategic capital investment, through its startups development program.

Also this Thursday, WE announced the first four startups to receive contributions between BRL 50 mil and BRL 500 mil: Dinie, Tuning the Brain, Exemplaria Solutions and AI Robots.

READ ALSO: The world’s First LGBTI+ Digital Bank is Brazilian: Meet Pride Bank

Women who managed to break through the barrier of capital access

LABS talked to some entrepreneurial women in Brazil. Even among those who managed to structure their businesses and convince investors to bet on it, the idea is clear that much remains to be done for the market to be more diverse and more open to female leaders.

“Only 15.6% of startups have women among their founders. It is necessary to change this scenario from the inside, ensuring gender equality in business. Our team has been formed with 80% women from the start,” says Melissa Felipe Gava, CEO of Mediação Online – MOL, a startup that offers online mediation of conflicts between people, companies and institutions as an alternative to common Justice.

The company was founded in 2015 by Gava and Camilla Feliciano Lopes, today the startup’s COO. Throughout its history, MOL has received investments from funds such as Wayra, 500 Startups, Canary and Redpoint Companies such as Itaú, Magazine Luiza, Mercado Livre (the Brazilian operation of MercadoLibre) are part of MOL’s portfolio.

Agrorigem, founded in 2019 by Daniele Alkmin Carvalho Mohallem, is another example of a Brazilian startup that decided to open up a predominantly male market.

Through a digital coffee sales platform, it connects rural producers and buyers of specialty coffees. “I saw, in a single virtual environment, the possibility of solving two pains: the need for higher remuneration from the producer and the desire of buyers of specialty coffee beans to access countless producers, buying directly from the source,” explains Daniele.

Daniele Alkmin Carvalho Mohallem, founder of Agrorigem. Photo: Personal Archive.

She highlights the difficulty of introducing innovation in a predominantly male market.

In many moments, I feel that we need to explain our entire curriculum in order to be recognized and respected

Daniele Alkmin Carvalho Mohallem, from Agrorigem.

In 2015, Paula Gomez and Hilda Cerdeira founded Epistemic, a startup that was born in the Cietec, the Business Incubator Technology Based on the Brazilian university USP, and is dedicated to the treatment of epilepsy. The company has developed a wearable device capable of predicting epileptic seizures; an application for the patient to record the details of their crises; and a web platform for doctors to access patient data through different graphs and reports. The electroencephalogram signals collected by the wearable device can also be seen on the doctor’s platform.

“So far we have made our own investment, and we have received support from Fapesp (the research foundation of the State of Sao Paulo) and CNPq (the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), in addition to winning five awards. Getting financing is always difficult. But it gets easier when you know the rules of the game. The partnership with Cietec, the management entity of the USP/IPEN-Cietec Incubator, helped us a lot with these guidelines ”, explains Gomes, CEO of Epistemic.

Cash-in, one of the startups selected to be part of the WE initiative mentioned above, was founded in 2018 by Nani Gordon and Luciana Ramos. The startup developed a bonus payment solution in the corporate market, for both permanent and outsourced employees.

“With the platform, the beneficiary chooses how to use their credits”, explains Nani Gordon, CEO of

The company received angel investment and started operating effectively in 2019. At the end of last year, it won the Comet Competition, a competition between startups from Ingram Micro Brasil, in which it was the only startup led by women. The price was $100,000. After winning large customers, now plans its expansion focused on SMBs.