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Microsoft launches female-only entrepreneur competition with $4m prize

A competition to find the best new female entrepreneurs has been launched by Microsoft.

The two winners of the M12 Female Founders Competition will share a total prize of $4m 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 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 $5bn into start-ups last year – have not had a single female decision maker at partner level or equivalent.

Learn more about M12

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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.

“We formed M12 to make smart bets on innovative people and their ideas, and the Female Founders Competition is an extension of that mandate,” said Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice-President of Business Development at Microsoft. “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.

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Companies that are eligible to enter must have at least one female founder

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.

“The EQT Ventures team is all about backing founders with the ambition, drive and vision to build a global success story,” said Alastair Mitchell, partner and Investment Advisor at EQT Ventures. “This competition reflects this and offers women entrepreneurs a great platform from which to launch their business, providing them with access to capital and mentorship. It also raises awareness of the funding gap between male and female founders and the EQT Ventures team wants to play an active role in bridging that gap.”

Further information can be found at the M12 application page.