Following her retirement, tennis star Serena Williams’ has said she will focus on her venture capital firm Serena Ventures, which backs a variety of companies including FinTechs and InsurTechs, many of which are owned by women and people of colour.
In a Vogue feature, Williams said her focus has slowly been shifting toward Serena Ventures, (in addition to growing her family), “Every morning, I’m so excited to walk downstairs to my office and jump onto Zooms and start reviewing decks of companies we’re considering investing in,” she said.
Williams added she “fell in love” with early stage funding, “whether it’s pre-seed funding, where you’re investing in just an idea, or seed, where the idea has already been turned into a product.”
Indeed, she wrote one of the first checks for MasterClass, which has since become one of the 16 unicorn Serena Ventures has backed.
Last year, Serena Ventures co-led a $10m Series A round for Nigeria-based rent reporting and credit building data solutions startup Esusu. The startup aims to provide financial solutions for low-to-middle income consumers, with one of its core capabilities being reporting to major credit bureaus consumers’ rental payments to allow them to build their credit histories.
Other companies included in its portfolio include the InsurTech Descartes, which is helping insurers address climate and emerging risks. Serena Ventures joined Descartes’ $120m Series B round in February this year. Also forming part of its FinTech/InsurTech portfolio is home mortgage FinTech Pretto, sustainable neobank Helios, digital insurance company Acheel and online data and portfolio management system Quantilla.
The VC is a champion of female and minority owned and founded companies. Williams said 78% of the firm’s portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of colour “because that’s who we are.”
She added, “On the other hand, my husband is white, and it’s important to me to be inclusive of everyone. Serena Ventures has been an all-female business until recently, when we brought in our first guy—a diversity hire!”
It widely known now that a very small portion of venture capital money goes to female-founded companies. However, Williams said when she first learnt of this a few years ago at a conference organised by JPMorgan Chase, she thought it was a mistake. “I thought, There’s no way that 98% of that capital is going to men,” she said.
“I kind of understood then and there that someone who looks like me needs to start writing the big checks. Sometimes like attracts like. Men are writing those big checks to one another, and in order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.”
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