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Serena Williams’ co-investor shares what comes next for the athlete’s venture firm

August 10, 2022, 12:31 PM UTC

Serena Williams made an extraordinarily emotional announcement yesterday: She is stepping away from what has been her whole life’s focus—tennis. And yet, she still showed up to her venture capital firm’s team call that morning.

“I feel like I go to sleep getting messages from her and wake up getting messages from her,” says Alison Rapaport Stillman, who is Serena Ventures’ general partner. “Nothing’s going to replace what tennis was for her, but as she’s thinking about what’s next—it’s exciting to see her as passionate about this as you see her on the court.”

You may not think “venture capitalist” when you first think of Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam champion who has become one of the world’s most famous athletes and role models to women and the Black community. But Williams started angel investing nearly a decade ago and has written checks to 16 startups that are now unicorns (think Impossible Foods or MasterClass). Venture is one of a few areas where Williams plans to spend more of her time on post-tennis: that and being a mom. 

Two years ago, Williams began setting up Serena Ventures’ first fund with Stillman, whom Williams hired in 2018 to invest in startups for her family office. In those first few months, Williams warehoused initial investments until the two of them had raised capital from limited partners. That first fund, backed by LPs including Norwest Venture Partners and Capital G, closed earlier this year at $111 million.

Stillman makes it clear that Williams has never just been a name on the door: She is actively involved.

“People are always surprised to know how in the weeds she is,” Stillman tells me, pointing out that Williams joines every weekly call, takes pitches herself, and that both she and Williams have to vote yes on something before writing a check. 

Now that she is giving up tennis, Williams will be even more involved in the firm’s work and interaction with founders, Stillman says. “That is something that she’s wanted to do for a long time and hasn’t always had the opportunity.” 

A key priority at the firm, and a major reason Stillman started working for Williams in the first place, was her focus on backing women and people of color: 78% of Serena Ventures’ portfolio fits that bill. Serena Ventures backs founders at the earliest stages: With 60% of its investments being in seed, 20% in pre-seed, and 20% in Series A.

Stillman wouldn’t disclose initial investment performance for the fund, but the two of them have backed about 20 companies with that capital and are still making investments with the first fund. Most recently, the firm invested in plant-based supplement company WILE. The firm isn’t ready to go back to market yet with a second fund, Stillman says, though “that is something that we will definitely be doing in the future.” 

The firm has grown to six people—two in operations and four investment professionals, with Williams and Stillman recruiting Pavan Sethi as an associate and Ashelë Woods as an analyst earlier this year. 

“We all in one way or another have often been overlooked and underestimated, and I think that makes us really connected with our founders,” Stillman says of the investment team. She pointed out how Williams had hopped on a call recently with a founder Stillman felt was underpricing her company. “When a founder is able to hear that from someone as inspirational as Serena… It really changed [the founder’s] whole demeanor,” Stillman says. That’s the value Serena Ventures can offer startups, according to Stillman: “A deep understanding of the long and exhausting road it takes to the top, and being able to have that winner’s mentality, to know when to push and when to slow down, and how to keep that longevity so that you don’t burn out.”

Right now, the team is focused on getting its second quarter financials out to LPs, wrapping up due diligence with a potential investment, and going through new deals. As for Williams, she still has one last tournament to finish.

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Truework, a San Francisco-based income and employment verification platform, raised $50 million in Series C funding. G Squared Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Sequoia, Activant, Khosla, Indeed, Human Capital, and Four Rivers

- Prellis Biologics, a San Francisco-based biotherapeutics company, raised $35 million in Series C funding. Celesta Capital and Avidity Partners led the round and were joined by investors including Khosla Ventures, SOSV, True Ventures, and Lucas Venture Group

- ​​Biofourmis, a Boston-based virtual care and digital medicine company, raised $20 million in Series D extension funding led by Intel Capital

- Maximus, a Los Angeles-based men’s telemedicine company, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Founders Fund’s Keith Rabois led the round and was joined by investors including 8VC, Abstract Ventures, 10X Capital, Unshackled Ventures, OneVC, Gaingels, Correlation Ventures, Chamaeleon VC, Rational Ventures, WhatIf Ventures, Shrug Capital, Electric Ant, and other angels.

- Nanopath, a Cambridge, Mass.-based molecular diagnostics company, raised $10 million in Series A funding. Norwest Venture Partners and the Medtech Convergence Fund led the round and were joined by investors including Gingerbread Capital and Green D Ventures

- OpenSpace, a San Francisco-based 360° jobsite capture and analytics company, raised an additional $9 million in Series D funding. Taronga Ventures and GreenPoint Partners invested in the round. 

- ReturnLogic, a Philadelphia-based returns management SaaS platform, raised $8.5 million in Series A funding. Mercury led the round and was joined by investors including Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund, White Rose Ventures, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

- Heirloom, a Los Angeles-based Web3 accessibility SaaS platform, raised $8 million in seed funding led by Ripple Labs and Forte Labs

- Privya, a Tel Aviv-based privacy management platform, raised $6 million in seed funding led by Hyperwise Ventures

- Sella, a Portland, Ore.-based resale platform, raised $3 million in seed funding led by Flying Fish Ventures.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Creation Investments invested $25 million in DD360, a Mexico City-based financial and property technology platform. 

- RESA Power, backed by Investcorp, acquired Advanced Electrical Services, an Alberta, Canada-based provider of electrical power and distribution products and services. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

EXITS

- Mubadala Capital acquired Canada Cartage, an Ontario-based transportation and logistics provider, from Nautic Partners. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

OTHER

- Recognize acquired a minority stake in Blend360, a Columbia, Md.-based data, analytics, and talent solutions provider, for $100 million.

- Availity agreed to acquire Diameter Health, a Farmington, Conn.-based clinical data quality and interoperability company. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- ECI Software Solutions acquired Data Inventions, an Erie, Pa.-based data connectivity and manufacturing intelligence platform, and Lojic, a Meadville, Pa.-based visualization and data analytics solution. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

PEOPLE

- Balderton Capital, a London-based venture capital firm, hired Elodie Broad as head of impact and sustainable future goals. Formerly, she was with Deloitte.  

- CRV, a Palo Alto and San Francisco-based venture capital firm, hired Chiraag Deora and Veronica Orellana as investors. Formerly, Deora was with Battery Ventures and Orellana was with Saturn

- Highview Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment firm, hired ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Krysty Penwell and Scott Kingsley as vice presidents and promoted ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Victor Bunce to vice president. Formerly, Penwell was with CenterOak Partners and Kingsley was with Great River Capital Partners

- Tiger Infrastructure Partners, a London and New York-based growth capital investment firm, hired Steve Holliday, Christine Weydig, and Graham Sharp as operating partners. Formerly, Holliday was with National Grid, Weydig was with the Port Authority of NY and NJ, and Graham was with Trafigura.

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