- Mary Schreiber Swenson Phd.
Serena Williams Puts All Eyes on Women’s VC in Vogue’s September Issue
The September issue of U.S. Vogue has long been regarded as the magazine’s most important publication of the year, but this year, 2022’s September issue came along with a world-rocking announcement: tennis legend Serena Williams would be hanging up her racket and retiring after years of dominating the sport. Her impact on tennis has been undeniable, winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles – more than any other woman or male player in the history of tennis’s open era – and inspiring countless tennis aspirants, especially women, to follow in her footsteps.
Though Williams’ may be moving forward off the court and into the next stage of her career, the champion’s time inspiring her fellow women is certainly far from over. Now, Williams tells Vogue, it’s time to focus on her venture capital firm Serena Ventures, establishing a blueprint for high-profile female investors in the venture capital space and putting eyes on female-led funding and start-ups.
“I started investing nine years ago, and I really fell in love with early stage, 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,” said Williams. “I wrote one of the very first checks for MasterClass. It’s one of 16 unicorns—companies valued at more than $1 billion—that Serena Ventures has funded, along with Tonal, Impossible Foods, Noom, and Esusu, to name a few. This year we raised $111 million of outside financing, from banks, private individuals, and family offices.”
In her quest to level the venture capital playing field, Williams has been intent to put her money where her mouth is and funneled monies into diverse and women-led start-ups, setting them up for success in the long-run and pushing for a more equitable marketplace in turn.
“Seventy-eight percent of our portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are,” Williams detailed. “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!”
Throughout her near-decade of experience in developing Serena Ventures, Williams learned of the startlingly low numbers of investments into female-led ventures at a conference held by JPMorgan Chase, where she was made aware of the disheartening statistic that only 2 percent of all available venture capital money per annum goes toward women.
“I figured that she misspoke,” said Williams. “I thought, ‘There’s no way that 98 percent of that capital is going to men.’ I approached her afterward, and she confirmed it. 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’ lead by example approach has the potential to deeply impact venture capital funding, much like her historic tennis career reshaped the sport as we know it. Discussing the disheartening women VC funding problem in a platform of Vogue’s September issue’s magnitude will enlighten and educate a whole new audience on the demonstrable need for additional funding toward women, and hopefully motivate others to follow in Williams’ inspiring footsteps.
“It’s important to have women like that who believe in you and push you to think bigger and do bigger,” added Williams.
With a team like Williams and Serena Ventures in its court, the potential success of female-led VC and funding for women-led ventures is already looking brighter than ever before.
I was so pleased to see this article and read Williams’ nuanced perspective on the need for additional representation for women in venture capital funding, especially as a strong advocate of the cause and a female founder myself. I will continue to stand up and fight for more equitable VC monies distribution toward female-run companies, with a focus on funneling capital toward women over 50 – another overlooked group whose voices deserve to be heard in venture capital.
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