Serena Williams’ venture capital fund has contributed to 16 unicorns

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 8, 2024 6:45 AM EDT
Serena Williams. Photo credit: Serena Williams

A 23-time Grand Slam winner and the only player to accomplish a career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles, the world recognizes Serena Williams as a sports icon. She is the highest-earning female athlete of all time, having earned over $90 million in prize money. Williams’ legacy, however, extends beyond the court. Her venture capital fund, Serena Ventures, has contributed to 16 unicorns – privately owned startup companies valued at over $1 billion.

“I invest in a lot of companies, early companies, and I’ve always done this. I’ve actually been investing for over 14 years and just been an entrepreneur while I was playing tennis. It’s super important for me to make a plan B while I was doing my plan A,” Williams said in a TikTok video.

Williams created Serena Ventures in 2014 alongside Alison Rapaport Stilman to level the playing field for women and people of color in business. She had discovered that less than two percent of venture capital went to women with even less going to Black women-founded startups. Williams knew that if she was not famous, she would have had limited access to funding to start a company. After tennis, it became her mission to invest in women, people of color, and diversity.

“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,” Williams explained why she founded Serena Ventures.

However, Serena Ventures wasn’t Williams’s first foray into the world of investment. She had fallen in love with early-stage pre-seed and seed funding since making her first investments nearly a decade ago. She was among the first investors in the online education subscription platform MasterClass. She found the company with around eight people in a small room in a garage in San Francisco and was fascinated with the product they were building. The tech startup was valued at $2.75 billion in 2021.

Since then, Williams has since invested in more than 85 companies. Her investment portfolio includes Black women-led healthcare startup HUED and Parfait, an artificial intelligence-powered platform specializing in customizable wig products. Williams has also provided financial backing for plant-based meat substitute company Impossible Foods, subscription-based weight-loss app Noom, Karat which helps companies hire the best engineering talent, and French NFT company Sorare, among others.

Some 16 of her portfolio companies have gone on to reach unicorn status, hitting a valuation of $1 billion or more. The term represents the statistical rarity of such successful ventures which are considered “innovative or disruptive” and are expected to grow quickly. It is a tremendous milestone for the 16 companies Williams has given monetary support. They have the opportunity to expand their reach and accomplish more long-term goals.

The Serena Ventures portfolio comprises 79% underrepresented founders, 54% women founders, 47% Black founders, and 11% Latino founders. Williams is creating new pathways to success and wealth creation that traditional entrepreneurship often overlooks.