On March 1, 2022, the news of Serena Williams raising $111 million for Serena Ventures hit the headlines. Although the venture capital firm is usually described as a new early-stage firm, it has been in existence since 2014. However, the privately-held company has taken its time in making significant funding rounds, with the $111 million being its first fund. Not much is known about Serena Ventures, so here is everything you need to know about it.
The Inspiration to Establish It
When Williams attended a conference, she listened as Caryn Seidman-Becker, the founder of CLEAR, informed the audience that less than 2% of venture capital funding goes to women. According to The New York Times, the tennis player was in disbelief so she went up to Seidman-Becker to confirm if the figure was true. Seidman-Becker said she had not misspoken, leaving Williams in awe that 98% of venture capital money went to men. She realized the only way to help people get funding was if another woman, especially a woman of color, was writing the checks. Williams reasoned that the underrepresented groups would always scramble for the 2% Thus the problem of having to deal with a boys’ club even in venture capital funding would never be resolved. As a result, she partnered with Alison Rapaport Stillman and founded Serena Ventures to focus on companies founded by women and minorities. Although there is no requirement for founders to come from underrepresented backgrounds, 76% of the founders are from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Serena Ventures has achieved its mission by investing heavily in women, especially black women. Fifty-three percent of the founders who have received some funding from the firm are women, 47% of whom are black.
The Firm Has Broadened Its Vision Since Its Founding
While Serena Ventures was inspired by a need to help more women get funding from venture capital firms, it has since allowed more founders into its fold. According to The Global VC, Williams widened the eligibility criteria, and the venture capital firm will currently take on anyone with a good idea. Still, the priority is women, primarily women of color. Stillman said that to her, success is not having a quota to meet but waking up one day and finally realizing that they had 70% of women as their founders. Stillman explained that having a diverse team led by women ensures that the mission is met without straining. It can be challenging to find the right company to invest in, but thanks to Serena Ventures broadening its vision, it only needs a recommendation from those already in its portfolio. According to Stillman, the main reason venture capitalists remain too closed-minded about who to invest in is because they do not have the right networking channel. As a result, while Serena Ventures is getting recommendations from all over, other venture capitalists choose to ignore other opportunities claiming they cannot find them. Consequently, such firms do not broaden their vision nor welcome diversity.
It is Looking for New Sectors to Invest In
Williams has a criteria of picking the right company to invest in, and she confessed that it is usually hard at first until one gets the right footing. She said that when she first ventured into investing, it was hard to hack her way around it, but now she is an expert. The athlete revealed that unless something is life-changing or affects the world, then she does not feel the need to include it in her portfolio. She added that it is not about having the biggest company on board but about having that one company that has a major social or global impact. Therefore, it is no surprise that Stillman disclosed that Serena Ventures is interested in other sectors, such as online education. The proof of her interest is the fact that the venture capital firm invested in Fiveable, an education tech company committed to unlocking opportunities for students through social and academic empowerment. It is a free online learning community that aims at helping students pass Advanced Placement exams. Williams already has invested in over 60 startups through Serena Ventures, arguing that the best way to nurture them to greatness is by being involved in their growth at the early stages. She disclosed that she does not like to gamble and is probably the most risk-averse investor. Therefore, by ensuring that she can be on board from the start, Williams reduces the risks of failure. It is a lesson learned the hard way after investing $250,000 in a startup and losing the funding, although it was long before founding Serena Ventures. Now with some hindsight, she prefers investing in startups, and three-quarters of the companies in the portfolio are in the early stage.
It’s Not Her First Investment
Serena Ventures may be in the headlines, but it is not Williams’ first investment. Her interest in seeing women and people of color being accorded the same opportunities as everyone else also led her to invest in bitcoin. According to Crypto Potato, she teamed up with Cash App to offer an avenue for women and people of color to invest in bitcoin. The athlete said it is important to expand bitcoin investment to the minority groups because bitcoin will not always be available, arguing that the 21 million coins to ever exist make the cryptocurrency a worthy investment tool. Her investing capacity is mainly from the fact that she does not like spending money but will splurge on her daughter. She would rather save her money, a habit instilled by her father. When Williams earned her first one-million-dollar paycheck, she took it to the bank. She also often forgot to collect her winnings from tournaments, and the directors would hand the checks to her because she never went to get them. The discipline to save has enabled Williams to not only establish Serena Ventures, but to also invest in Lolli, a company that rewards shoppers with bitcoin, and even launch a fashion line, S by Serena.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee