Serena Williams’ next act in venture capital is essential in this moment

Lights, camera, another backhand winner down the line. It’s hard to imagine that in two weeks, Serena Williams is playing what could — and most likely will be — her last tennis tournament after 23 Grand Slams and decades of dazzling on center courts.

She announced her retirement in the latest issue of Vogue magazine, writing that she will be “evolving” away from the sport to focus on family and her career as a venture capitalist. Williams founded her own firm, Serena Ventures, in 2014 and raised a $111 million inaugural fund this year to invest in “founders with diverse points of view,” she previously told The New York Times.

When Serena Williams steps away from tennis, she’ll be walking into an arena as white as the one she just left.

LPs include CapitalG, LionTree Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, and with a team of six, the firm’s already invested in 20 companies with that capital, Fortune reported.

In tennis, she and her sister, Venus Williams, helped break the color barrier for Black girls looking to play a sport still associated with whiteness and privilege. Following the trail they blazed includes Naomi Osaka, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and countless others preparing for the day when they too can walk into the blinding lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Between hitting ace serves on the court, Williams’ firm has invested in more than 78 companies, including 16 unicorns such as MasterClass and Impossible Foods, and has 61 businesses in its portfolio, per PitchBook. She’s a pioneer in the new era of celebrity side hustle, which now sees today’s biggest stars pursuing economic vehicles like funds, firms and multimedia enterprises that help them retain power and ownership over their careers.

These passion projects can be a good thing, depending on the celebrity. When people in positions of power redistribute their financial and social prowess, it helps tell new stories, shines a light on laws to enact and allocates money to businesses that can play a part in addressing socioeconomic inequalities. Hopefully, more celebrities will see this as an avenue in which they can make a difference and play a role in creating a more advantageous society for all.

Most importantly, Williams’ career pivot has the opportunity to expose more young Black people, especially women, to the venture capital industry. TechCrunch previously noted that this job is a mystery to the masses, and its role as an avenue to making and sustaining wealth is not a conversation had with Black children.

As Williams showed a whole new generation of Black children the possibilities of tennis, her stature and influence can help highlight this job to a new set of individuals who never thought a career in venture capital possible and who have never seen someone like themselves pursue it.

When she steps away from tennis, she’ll be walking into an arena as white as the one she just left — less than 5% of VCs are Black and even fewer are Black women. Although it’s assumed that Williams’ celebrity status will help, she’s still a Black woman; the stakes remain higher and scrutiny awaits.

She told The New York Times that she was inspired to start Serena Ventures after hearing Clear CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker speak a few years ago about the dismal funding women receive. In her latest Vogue piece, she elaborated on that point, saying she understood venture capital as men writing checks to each other, thus increasing the need for someone like her to give money back to their communities.

In 2014, when Serena Ventures launched, Black women received only $55.4 million of the then-record $47.3 billion raised by startups, Crunchbase data showed. In 2018, when Williams brought on Alison Rapaport Stillman to help shape the firm into what it is today, Black women received about $590 million of the then-record $130 billion. Black-founded startups received $324 million in VC funds in the second quarter of this year, a steep decrease from the $1.2 billion received in Q1 and substantially below the $866 million the founder cohort raised in Q2 last year, according to Crunchbase data.

The current venture conditions for minorities represent an ever-changing benchmark that makes even one step forward seem like two steps back. That’s why Williams’ voice and money are needed in this space, where Black VCs face trouble remaining at the helms of their funds and encounter problems in attracting capital from LPs. There needs to be more high-profile pressure for change and more top-down influence.

Williams already has the skills to grow her fund to cosmo heights. She’s proven able to handle power, fame and money quite gracefully. She knows her balancing act and mastered the art of what it takes to win and lose, essential skills for running an early-stage venture fund.

To date, Serena Ventures, which didn’t immediately respond to TechCrunch’s request to comment, has completed 10 exits and sits on $88 million worth of dry powder, according to PitchBook. With a $5 million check, it just led an early-stage round for Selena Gomez’s mental health startup, helping it hit a $100 million valuation and making Gomez one of the few Latinas to raise $1 million or more in VC funds. Williams said 78% of the companies within Serena Ventures’ portfolios are founded by women and people of color, which could create a domino effect on more women hired at tech companies, as studies show women invest in more women who go on to hire more women.

After next week, Williams might never step foot on a tennis court again. That conversation is bittersweet. Tech is thrilled to have her, although it should be noted that her contemporaries, like Novak Djokovic, have never spoken of leaving the sport to attend to their families.

Williams, who is married to angel investor and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, wrote in Vogue that if she were a guy, she could continue playing and winning while her “wife” tended to the household. Perhaps VC will provide more work-life balance as she seeks to grow her family. Or maybe this is an issue to look at fixing through investments? The ideas and opportunities are now endless.

What is for sure is that Williams is walking away from the sport on her own terms, making her evolution just that — a transition where the word retirement doesn’t mean disappearing into the shadows but rather enjoying the freedom and liberty to live as one chooses. And that’s the true win here.