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Serena Williams calls on women to invest in startups and puts Brazil on the radar

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Tennis player Serena Williams, 40, arrived in São Paulo this week to share with the Expert XP audience the goals and challenges of her business journey with venture capital manager Serena Ventures. Interviewed by José Berenguer, CEO of Banco XP, and Betina Roxo, Head of Digital Channels at the bank, at the end of the event that, in two days, had almost 35 thousand visitors and more than 1 million remote spectators, the athlete and investor raised the flag of diversity in the financial world and announced that her company should open a new round of funding soon. On the radar of transfers of funds are startups from countries in Africa and Latin America (including Brazil), revealed Serena.

More women need to write big checks to other women

The winner of 23 Grand Slam tournaments said that her father’s entrepreneurial spirit always inspired her, but that the click to embark on the business world came when she took a closer look at the sponsorship banners of major brands on the sides of the tennis courts. With the goal of being successful as a businesswoman, the athlete sought knowledge in an immersion in Silicon Valley, where she fell in love with the world of startups.

Serena was already an investor when she attended a JP Morgan bank event that awakened a new purpose in her: “About 4 or 5 years ago, I decided to launch Serena Ventures. I was in Miami at a JP Morgan conference, because I had been investing for about four years, and at that conference Jamie Dimon was on stage talking to Caryn Becker. She’s the CEO of Clear, and she said less than 2% of all VC money goes to women. We’re talking billions of dollars, possibly even trillions (…) I thought, ‘Okay, the only way to change that number, that statistic, was to have people like me, a black woman, write big checks. Men like to write checks to other men. Women like to give checks to other women. To me, we need more women on big stages, giving big checks.”

Today, the tennis player has more than 60 companies in her investment portfolio, including 13 unicorns (startups valued at more than US$ 1 billion). In early 2022, she and partner Alison Rapaport Stillman managed to raise about $111 million to set up a venture capital fund to invest funds outside the United States. According to Serena, 68% of the invested companies were founded by women, blacks, browns and Asians.

“People talk about inclusion and diversity, but our company invests in everyone. My husband is white, so we invest in white men too. But because of me and because of my partner, because of who we are, we naturally see more women. More women come to us and feel more comfortable talking to us because they believe they have a chance, that it’s a good chance for them to be heard and seen. And that is our thesis”, analyzes the tennis player.

Founders with an authentic cause have greater potential
Serena has ambition in her company’s goals and says she wants SV to be like her version of the sporting world, a global business. With the next round of funding, the businesswoman plans to allocate resources to startups in African and Latin American countries. According to the investor, Brazil will also receive special attention.

Long-term thinking and a spirit of innovation are characteristics that pique the interest of Serena and her partner. “Our company also likes to think outside the box when it comes to venture capital. We want to strive and have a startup spirit: that company that opens doors and thinks differently”, says Serena.

“I believe that the best founders are those who solve a pain they went through or that impacted someone important in their lives,” said the businesswoman. “When the market changes, what are you going to do? If it’s not something that’s connected to your purpose, I’m hardly going to support this idea. Make sure it’s something authentic and that it has a real connection with you”, guides the investor.

Priority list and balance
At the end of the panel, Serena spoke about the challenge that women in general have in balancing personal life with professional activities. According to the athlete and businesswoman, it is necessary to choose priorities and, based on them, include other demands.

“We women do so much, we need to prioritize more. If we prioritize, we understand that sometimes we have to give up something. Family and God are the most important to me. Business sometimes comes before tennis. And that’s ok”, revealed the former tennis world number 1 who ended the conversation with a piece of advice for women: “Enjoy what you do. Be kind to everyone.”


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