Serena Williams is best known for being one of the best players in tennis history, not to mention the best-paid female athlete in history. However, the 41-year-old African American, who retired from tennis three months ago, is also an extremely successful venture capitalist on the sidelines, investing in dozens of startups and businesses with the aim of lifting up racial minorities and other marginalized groups in American society.
Williams launched her first flagship project by the name of Serena Ventures back in 2014. Over the years, the fund expanded dramatically with successful investments in women- and minority-owned businesses. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and well-known entrepreneur, is believed to have guided the endeavor since its inception. The existence of the fund was actually kept secret until 2019. The fund is now run by Williams and experienced investor Alison Rapaport.
In March this year, the 23-time Grand Slam champion made headlines for successfully raising nearly $111 million for Serena Ventures, amidst a broader sell-off in tech stocks. This achievement puts Williams significantly ahead of other leading African-American celebrities who have tried their lot in venture business, including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and Will Smith, and just shy of investments secured by Kevin Durant, Nas, and Ashton Kutcher. This is an immense accomplishment, given the enormous obstacles faced by Black – especially Black women – investors in the venture capitalist market, as Williams herself has pointed out in a CNN op-ed.
The news was announced with a simple blog message reading: “Today we’re excited to share that we’ve raised an inaugural fund of $111M to continue pursuing our mission…” It is not known what new directions Serena Ventures will take in the near future after its recent remaking.
The fund already has a diverse portfolio of 60 companies, with a particular focus on enterprises seeking to lift up people of color and help overcome systemic barriers to Black-owned businesses. One prominent recent example if Karat, which Williams funded to provide more high-paying employment opportunities to Black software engineers.