EQT Asks ‘Motherbrain’ AI Tool to Find More Female Founders

Swedish investment firm EQT AB is using its artificial intelligence-based deal sourcing tool, Motherbrain, to boost funding for more diverse startup teams.

Last year, EQT tweaked Motherbrain’s algorithms to prioritize companies with a female founder, and now screens twice as many of these businesses each week, according to partner Henrik Landgren.

EQT Asks ‘Motherbrain’ AI Tool to Find More Female Founders

“We’re looking at a much better set of diverse founding teams that are coming to us to pitch,” said Landgren, who leads the Motherbrain program, in an interview.

Motherbrain has led to two investments in female-led companies out of the program’s 10 total deals so far, which are valued at 150 million euros ($183 million). The latest such investment, a seed round in web design startup Vev, was announced Thursday. The previous deal was in gaming startup WarDucks, led by Chief Executive Officer Nikki Lannen.

Women are underrepresented at all parts of the venture capital process -- making up fewer numbers of partners at the funds and getting less attention and investment as founders. Most venture capital firms have no female partners. An analysis from DocSend, a Dropbox Inc. subsidiary that allows companies to share pitch documents, found venture capital firms spent 18% more time viewing decks from all-male teams than those made up of only women.

“It’s good to reveal that there are female founders out there that don’t get the attention that they should,” said Tine Karlsen, CEO and co-founder of Vev. “It’s a good stepping stone, but of course the goal is that you don’t need a computer program.”

There’s evidence the industry’s lack of diversity is costing it returns. A Boston Consulting Group report with MassChallenge, a startup accelerator, found that while businesses with at least one female founder generated more revenue, they got a fraction of the investment of their all-male counterparts.

That’s led to several large VC firms, including EQT, to pledge to diversify their ranks and investments over the past few years. This month, EQT told lenders in a bond issue that it would agree to pay a higher interest rate if it failed to increase the percentage of women on its investment team.

But the Covid-19 pandemic was a setback, with female-founded and led startups disproportionately impacted, according to a report from data provider PitchBook. Funding for their companies dropped 31% in 2020 from the year before while all-male teams saw investment decline by about half that.

Landgren said that EQT is working with lawyers to try to figure out how to also prioritize other backgrounds aside from gender, such as race. The company said it has to take care not to break Europe’s strict rules around data privacy. Countries including France also have rules restricting how firms track racial data. These date back to the Nazis’ use of labels to target Jewish people and other minorities during World War II.

EQT also rolled out this month a new tool that screens based on companies’ sector focus, including sustainability and climate tech. Motherbrain has identified more than 150,000 such companies, EQT said.

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