Grand Slam tennis champion Serena Williams turns to venture capital

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  • Serena Williams has announced that she is quitting tennis to focus on venture capital investing.
  • Williams started venture capital firm Serena Ventures in 2014 and has invested in more than 60 companies.
  • Serena Ventures announced that it raised an inaugural fund of $111 million in March.

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

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

William’s launched his venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014. Through Serena Ventures, Williams and his partner, Alison Rapaport Stillman, have invested in more than 60 companies, according to a company press release. The company’s investments have spanned sectors ranging from fintech 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 an inaugural fund of $111 million from banks, high net worth individuals and family offices. Williams told Dealbook at the time that the fund would invest in founders with “diverse views.”

Williams, in her own words, is “getting away from tennis.” Now she’s set for her venture capital career to take center field.

In his essay, Williams delves deeper into his motivations for being an investor. She writes that a few years ago she attended a conference organized by JP Morgan Chase. One of the speakers at the conference was Caryn Seidman-Becker, CEO of security firm Clear. Williams wrote that Caryn said less than two percent of all venture capital money is invested in women. At first, Williams wrote that she thought Caryn misspoke. So, Williams approached Caryn after the conference to confirm if the figure was true, and Caryn did.

Williams wrote, “I kind of realized then that someone who looked like me had to start writing the big checks.”

According to the Serena Ventures website, 53% of companies in the company’s current portfolio are founded by women. About 76% of the company’s investments are founded by people from historically underrepresented backgrounds. In this framework, 47% of investments have black founders and 12% have Latino founders. The company’s numbers far exceed national venture capital funding statistics. A 2021 study by Crunchbase showed that 1.2% of venture capital funding went to black founders. While a 2022 Crunchbase study showed that Latino founders received just over 2% of funding.

In March, Serena Ventures was the lead investor in a $2.1 million seed round raised by Calico, an e-commerce enablement company founded by Kathleen Chan. In January, the company participated in a $7 million Series A funding 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 told Insider via email.

“An integral part of Serena Ventures’ mission is to support founders who have incredible potential that might be overlooked by other investors and connect them with the basic ingredients of opportunity: capital, mentorship and support,” Stillman writes to Insider via email. “Our ability to write larger checks and lead fundraising allows us to better fulfill this mission and provide entrepreneurs with something almost no one else in the world can: a deep understanding of the long and exhausting road towards the top.

Serena Ventures itself has been led by a team of six women until now. Williams joked in her essay that they recently recruited a man who is the company’s “first diversity hire.”

For Williams, the adventure is also family. Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, is the founder of two venture capital firms: Initialized Capital and Seven Seven Six. Ohanian founded Initialized Capital in 2011. He left in 2020 to launch his current company, 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 “its own investment thesis.”

Williams ultimately hopes her legacy will extend beyond her historic tennis career.

“I admire Billie Jean because she transcended her sport,” Williams wrote. “I wish it was: Serena is this and she is that and she was a great tennis player and she won those slams.”

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