How Serena Williams Is Making Massive Social Impact Through Venture Capital
With 23 Grand Slam singles titles under her belt, Serena Williams, 40, is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. And while her career on the court is one of legend, her various business ventures are equally impressive. Her fashion line, S by Serena, aims to empower women through inclusive and accessible styles with diverse, fun and authentic designs. Her jewelry line, Serena Williams Jewelry, offers responsibly made pieces using ethically sourced, conflict-free diamonds and precious metals, all crafted in a facility certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council—meaning the highest standards for environmental sustainability, health and safety, and labor and human rights are adhered to by the company. But most impressive of all is Williams’ early-stage venture capital fund Serena Ventures.
Serena Ventures was founded with the mission to champion diverse, creative founders who are changing the world with their ideas and products across a wide array of industries. Currently, the VC firm has over 50 portfolio companies with $33 billion market cap, and 60 percent are diverse founder investments. Mission-driven companies—such as rent reporting platform Esusu, health care startup HUED and social learning platform Fiveable—make up the majority of Serena’s investments, a guiding principle she’s followed since her angel investing days. But with Serena Ventures, she’s not only able to fund female founders and founders of color; she’s also able to offer continued support for these early-stage founders through her network of portfolio companies.
“My life story is one of breaking barriers and championing inclusion, on and off the court. Coming up in a predominately white male sport, I have been underestimated and underpaid throughout my career. Now, as a venture capitalist investing in early-stage startups, I see myself in the Black female founders who are often counted out right from the start,” Williams wrote in a 2020 op-ed for CNN Business. “The Black female founder begins her fundraising journey already down a match point. Black women face a unique set of challenges colored by misconceptions of both race and gender. Investors notoriously doubt female founders, typically focusing investment analysis on the potential risks and losses of female-founded startups. They often assume that women-founded companies are more likely to fail. With male-founded startups, investors take a more optimistic approach, focusing on founders’ potential to capture market share and drive the accelerated growth necessary for massive financial returns. Meanwhile, Black founders contend with systemic inequity at each step of their journey. Investors expect to see more traction from Black founders than their white counterparts and will often question their technical expertise and market understanding.”
“Black female founders exist at the intersection of these challenges, making it exponentially more difficult for them to get the funding they need,” she continued. “My firm, Serena Ventures, invests in early-stage entrepreneurs who often pitch us with just a vision. When thinking through what role I wanted to play as an investor, funding early-stage ventures was a no-brainer. I look to support the dreamers and the visionaries of the future, while giving them the opportunity to capitalize on their genius.”
Just last month, Serena Ventures partnered with MaC Venture Capital and Michael B. Jordan to create a startup pitch competition for Historically Black College and University (HBCU) founders. The winners—who will be awarded up to $1 million in structured safe investments—will be announced by Williams and Jordan during halftime of the inaugural Legacy Classic, an HBCU college basketball showcase airing December 18 on TNT.
“HBCUs are an integral part of our educational ecosystem and have long been centers of entrepreneurial excellence,” Serena Ventures general partner Alison Stillman said, according to AfroTech. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Michael B. Jordan and MaC ventures on highlighting the brilliant student and alumni founders.”
But Williams’ goal to help create a better world extends beyond her purpose-driven business enterprises. The tennis great is committed to a number of philanthropic causes worldwide. In 2018, she and her family opened the Yetunde Price Resource Center (YPRC) to honor Williams’ oldest half-sister, who was murdered during a drive-by shooting in 2003, and to provide the necessary resources for those affected by trauma to flourish. YPRC works directly with community partners to offer trauma-informed programs and to promote individual, as well as community-wide, healing and resiliency.