Grand Slam Tennis Champion, Serena Williams, turning Venture Capital

  • Serena Williams announced that she was leaving tennis to focus on venture capital investing.
  • Williams launched VC firm Serena Ventures in 2014 and has invested in more than 60 companies.
  • Serena Ventures announced that it had raised $111 million in seed funding in March.

Serena Williams announced Tuesday that she is retiring from tennis to focus on her family and career in venture capital. Williams shared the news in a candid essay she wrote for him Vogue.

Williams may be the highest-earning female tennis player in history. However, the 23-time Grand Slam champion has been on the moon as a venture capitalist for several years.

Williams launched her venture firm, Serena Ventures, back in 2014. Through Serena Ventures, Williams and her partner, Alison Rapaport Stillman, have made angel investments in more than 60 companies, according to a press release from the firm. The firm’s investments across sectors range from financial technology companies like Propel and Cointracker to edtech unicorns like MasterClass to consumer product startups like Billie and Daily Harvest.

In March, Serena Ventures announced that it had raised $111 million in seed funding from banks, high net worth individuals, and family offices. Williams told Dealbook at the time that the fund would invest in founders with “different perspectives.”

Williams, in her own words, is “evolving away from tennis.” Now, she is ready for her venture career to take center court.

In her essay, Williams goes into depth about her motivations for becoming an investor. She wrote that a few years ago, she attended a conference organized by JP Morgan Chase. Caryn Seidman-Becker, CEO of the security company Clear, was one of the speakers at the conference. Williams wrote that Caryn said less than two percent of all venture capital money was invested in women. At first, Williams wrote that she thought Caryn had spoken incorrectly. So Williams contacted Caryn after the conference to confirm if the figure was real, and Caryn did.

Williams wrote, “I realized then and there that someone who looks like me needs to start writing the big checks.”

According to the Serena Ventures website, 53% of the firm’s current portfolio companies are founded by women. About 76% of the firm’s investments are founded by individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Within that, 47% of investments have black founders and 12% have Latino founders. The number of businesses goes beyond the national statistics on enterprise funding. A Crunchbase study in 2021 showed that 1.2% of venture capital funding went to black founders. While a Crunchbase study in 2022 showed that Latino founders received just over 2% of funding.

In March, Serena Ventures served as lead investor in a $2.1 million seed round raised by Calico, an e-commerce enablement company founded by Kathleen Chan. In January, the firm participated in a $7 million Series A round raised by Chatdesk, a customer support messaging platform, founded by black entrepreneurs Andrew Olaleye and Aneto Okonkwo. The firm is also an investor in Esusu, a fintech startup that was one of the first black-owned tech unicorns. Serena Ventures’ portfolio currently has 20 startups, Stillman tells Insider via email.

“A core part of Serena Ventures’ mission is to support founders with incredible potential who may be overlooked by other investors and connect them with the key ingredients of opportunity: capital, mentorship and support,” Stillman writes to Insider via email. “Our ability to write larger checks and lead seed rounds enables us to better deliver on this mission and provide entrepreneurs with something that almost no one else in the world can: a deep understanding of the long and comprehensive road to the top.

Serena Ventures itself is run by a team of six women so far. Williams joked in their recent essay about a man who is the firm’s “first diversity hire.”

For Williams, business also runs in the family. Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, is the founder of two venture capital firms – Startup Capital and Seven Seven Six. Ohanian founded Capitalized Capital in 2011. He left in 2020 to launch his current firm, Seven Seven Six, which has invested in companies like Dispo, Lolli, and Yuga Labs, according to his website. Stillman told Insider that there was “no crossover or competition” between Seven Seven Six and Serena Ventures. She added that Seven Seven Six has “their own investment thesis”.

Williams ultimately hopes her legacy will transcend her storied tennis career.

“I love Billie Jean because she transcended her sport,” Williams wrote. “I want it to be: Serena is this and she is that and she was an excellent tennis player and she won those slams.”

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