Serena Williams Wants to Bring Her Passion for Seed Investing to LatAm

Williams says women naturally come to Serena Ventures because they feel like having a chance for them to be heard and seen

Serena Williams, tennis champion and venture capital investor.
August 08, 2022 | 05:09 PM

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Bloomberg Línea — Tennis superstar Serena Williams said she plans to invest in Latin American startups. Williams, who recently closed a US$ 111 million fund, stated she is very interested in investing in the region, especially Brazil, besides Africa -- where she currently has some bets -- the athlete and businesswoman told at broker XP’s summit held in Brazil last week. Meanwhile, she advises founders that to overcome a downturn, they need to be passionate about their product.

“I like the number 1, so that’s why we raised $111 million”, she explains.

Williams, champion in 23 Grand Slams, started investing nine years ago when she was spending more time in San Francisco in meetings with different startups. “I was drawn to early-stage (investments). I did a couple of bad investments in the beginning but that was when I learned the importance of due diligence,” she said.

“I naturally fell into Seed investing because of how you have to help the founders, how you have to help the team,” said Williams.

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Celebrities are among those writing the first checks for some startups. That’s the case of Lewis Hamilton with Chilean NotCo and Athletic Greens, Shakira, Odell Beckam Jr and Chainsmokers that recently bet $85 million in the food tech Magic Spoon, Leonardo DiCaprio, that backs Neat Burger, Wildtype, and Argentina’s Waterplan.

Beyoncé recently participated in the US$ 31 million Series A of Lemon Perfect. LeBron James, Emily Ratajkowski, John Legend, and others backed Neutral Food.

Williams also invested in the mental health startup co-founded by actress Selena Gomez, WonderMind. Gomez is also an investor and put her money in the decacorn last-mile delivery startup Gopuff.

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Like attracts like

About five years ago she launched Serena Ventures after hearing that less than 2% of the Venture Capital money was going to women at a JP Morgan conference in Miami. “The only way to change that is people like me, Black women, writing the checks. Like attracts like. Men like to write checks to other men. Women like to write checks for other women.”

Women make up just 22% of Latin America VC fund partner count, according to a new report by Endeavor.

Even though Williams’ fund also invests in white men, she says that women naturally come to Serena Ventures because they feel like having a chance for them to be heard and seen. “Right now our portfolio has about 68% female or people of color which is really unheard of in the VC world.”

Williams already backs 13 unicorns. To survive a scenario where startups are struggling to get funded as investors shrunk their assets, the athlete advises that when the market turns, founders need to connect to a problem that they really want to solve. And they need to build resilience. “At some point, it’s going to drop. You have to fight for what you want. If a founder is building something that they are not super connected to it, it’s hard for me, personally, to be behind that idea.”

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