April 16, 2024


In October last year, researchers at the Alan Turing Institute sounded the alarm that there was an “urgent issue” of gender imbalance in artificial intelligence investment. No one, unfortunately, was surprised. However, it is always good to have the data.

The report found that female-founded companies accounted for only 3% of AI startup VC funding over the past decade. While the study focused solely on the UK, similar findings have been reported in other countries.

With the boom in generative AI, the importance of diverse founder perspectives to counteract bias in a technology set to become ever more omnipresent throughout our daily lives cannot be overstated. Thus, the chasm in gender representation in AI is concerning far beyond the mere recognition of “that sucks.”

Of course, this is not a problem solely with funding, or AI as a sector, for that matter. Female representation in tech is held back by structural factors such as industry culture and lower rates of women in STEM. What seems to matter most when it comes to shifting gender imbalance is support —- and representation that highlights the struggles, along with the wins.

“It’s true that there are very few female founders in AI,” Dr Angie Ma, co-founder of UK-based startup Faculty AI, tells TNW. “But my experience as a tech company founder has been a rewarding one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it’s easy or anything, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I think it’s the journey that matters. Because along the journey, I’ve come across many wonderful people that have helped me without expecting anything in return.”

A “great time for AI” at UCL

Dr Ma completed her degree in physics during the dot-com boom of the early 2000s. Together with a couple of friends she started a company that created databases for online shopping. In her own words, it “failed spectacularly.” 

After a family-encouraged foray into law and realising she would make “a lousy lawyer,” she began her PhD in physics at University College London, which was, she says, a “great time for AI.” (DeepMind founders Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg, and Mustafa Suleyman attended at the same time.)

Profile photo of Dr Angie Ma