Microsoft awards $4M to two companies in Female Founders Competition

The tech giant's venture fund wants to bridge the funding gap in venture capital.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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2 min read

The finalists in the Female Founders Competition. The two winners, Mental Canvas and Acerta Analytics, were announced Tuesday. 

Rebecca Wilkowski

Microsoft's venture fund announced the two winners of its Female Founders Competition on Tuesday, each of which will be awarded $2 million in funding. 

The fund, M12, launched the Female Founders Competition in July in partnership with EQT Ventures and SVB Financial Group. The competition seeks to bridge the funding gap in venture capital and dispel the misconception that few women are building enterprise tech companies.

The winning companies are Mental Canvas, a software company that combines conventional 2D sketching with 3D capabilities, and Acerta, a company whose AI platform works to ensure the quality and reliability of vehicle systems.


Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas. 

Rebecca Wilkowski

Women founders tend to have a harder time securing funding. Just 2.2 percent of venture capital funding in the US last year went to companies founded only by women, according to data from industry tracker Pitchbook. And yet, research shows that companies led by women tend to generate better returns

Julie Dorsey, founder and chief scientist of Mental Canvas, said the Female Founders Competition is a step in the right direction when it comes to diversifying the industry.

"If you want to change something -- that is, if you want to fund female-founded companies or seek parity in venture capital funding -- you need to change things," Dorsey said. "You can't just keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. Setting up a competition where you invite only females to enter is a really smart way of identifying great female-founded companies."

Dorsey said winning the competition isn't only a recognition of Mental Canvas' technology and the team's hard work, but it'll also allow the company to hire more employees and grow. 

Acerta is also looking to expand its team, said CEO and co-founder Greta Cutulenco. 


Greta Cutulenco, CEO and co-founder of Acerta. 

Rebecca Wilkowski

"From meeting other female founders to building our investor network, the competition was a positive and valuable experience," Cutulenco said. "We're excited about what's to come."

Last month, M12 named the 10 finalists chosen from a pool of hundreds of submissions from 28 countries. Those finalists pitched their companies to judges at the Microsoft Reactor in San Francisco.

"It's our responsibility as VCs to begin leveling the playing field so that those companies who receive funding are a truer reflection of the world in which we live," Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. 

In addition to $2 million in funding, the winners will also have access to tech resources, mentoring and legal counsel.

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