Serena Williams is the first athlete to make Forbes’ Richest Self-Made Women list

Once upon a time in Hollywood premiere at Cannes Film festival

I feel like Forbes probably intended to drop their Serena Williams cover in the middle of her French Open run, like they hoped that it would drop just after she won her fourth-round match or something. Instead, Forbes released their cover just after Serena lost in the third round of the French Open, and just after a weekend where professional sports journalists were spreading lies about Serena’s “rude” and “diva” behavior off the court. But Serena stays unbothered, and she stays rich as hell too. There was a joke going around earlier this year that Serena is basically only playing tournaments to debut her new commercials and endorsements. It’s funny because it’s true. She’s making a ton of cash from her sponsorships nowadays, and what’s great is that she’s paying it forward and becoming a venture capitalist, financing small businesses run by people of color and women. You can read the Forbes cover story here.

Serena Williams is now the first athlete ever to hit Forbes’ annual list of the World’s Richest Self-Made Women, with an estimated fortune of $225 million, the vast majority of it having come via her brain and brand rather than her backhand. And over the past five years, she’s been quietly dropping money into 34 startups. In April, Williams formally announced that Serena Ventures is open for business, to fund others and launch companies herself.

“I want to be a part of it,” she says, sitting at the hotel. “I want to be in the infrastructure. I want to be the brand, instead of just being the face.” Given her longtime background in style and design, that means overweighting on fashion lines, jewelry and beauty products. Yes, she’ll keep competing at tennis—her resilient comeback last year after giving birth burnished her as a cultural icon who transcends sports. And sure, she’ll happily continue to rake in easy endorsement money from the likes of Nike and JPMorgan Chase—her $29 million total income over the past 12 months is the highest of her career.

So at Serena Ventures, she focuses on companies founded by women and minorities. Yes, there’s a social purpose to that decision. But as with her tennis upbringing, she’s also finding opportunity by avoiding the herd. Just 2.3% of the total venture capital invested last year in the U.S. went to women-led startups—and even when including firms with both a male and female founder, you’re just at 10%. The numbers are worse for black and Hispanic founders. Yet some 60% of Williams’ investments so far have gone to companies led by women or people of color. “What better way to preach that message?” asks Williams.

The only way to find enough of those companies right now is to nurture them early, something that Williams got hooked on after investing and losing (eventually) $250,000 in a startup in the years before Serena Ventures. “I learned you can’t overspend, but I also learned that I love seed investing,” she says. Of the 34 companies she’s backed through Serena Ventures, more than three quarters are early-stage. “It’s fun to get in there. I don’t gamble. I don’t jump off buildings,” says Williams. “I’m the most non-taking-a-chance kind of a person, but I felt like seed was where we wanted to be.”

[From Forbes]

That’s really cool. I knew that she was getting more involved with financing and start-ups, but I didn’t realize it was this big. People don’t give Serena and Venus enough credit for what they do off the court – Venus is also a businesswoman. Venus went through a WTA college program and got her bachelor’s and her MBA. Venus owns her own clothing label (EleVen) and her own interior design firm. And now Serena has yet another clothing line, and Serena Ventures plus a million other things. Incredible women.

Guests are seen at the French Open 2019

Cover courtesy of Forbes, additional photos courtesy of Backgrid.

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6 Responses to “Serena Williams is the first athlete to make Forbes’ Richest Self-Made Women list”

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  1. OriginalRose says:

    Ugh, I just LOVE this woman.

  2. buensenso says:

    now that’s impressive. and true. she’s self made, not kylie.

  3. Angie says:

    Wow she is amazing. Total respect.

  4. Laura says:

    Nothing but love & respect for these amazing women.

  5. Caela says:

    Love her! And real “self-made” riches unlike some others…

  6. TheOriginalMia says:

    She’s amazing! I love that she has gone out on her own to become a venture capitalist. She’s right about minorities and women getting shorted by the VC community.