Why Serena Williams’ venture capital firm is backing this Canadian startup

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Tennis star Serena Williams may be leaving the court, but she’s not done working. She is stepping up her efforts to help BIPOC women and entrepreneurs raise capital through her venture capital firm, including a Canadian fashion software startup.

In a recent vogue trial, the 23-time Grand Slam champion has revealed she will retire from tennis to focus on motherhood and her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures. Williams launched her female-led company in 2014 to primarily support diverse, early-stage tech founders: 78 percent of Serena Ventures’ portfolio are companies created by women and people of color — something Williams is intentional about after learning that just two percent VC dollars go to women.

One of these companies is Calico. In March, Serena Ventures LEDs the $2.6 million seed round for a Toronto-based startup, which was founded by Kathleen Chan in 2020. Calico helps e-commerce brands, especially small fashion and accessories businesses, manage their supply chain to get their products to market as quickly as possible.

“I’ve encountered the exact problem that Calico solves and rarely have I encountered a company so in tune with the challenges and limitations of the industry as Calico,” said Williams, who has her own fashion labelS by Serena, said in a press release. “It’s a category-defining product that will have an outsized impact on retail and there couldn’t be a more critical time to help them succeed.”

Serena Ventures recently raised $111 million in external funding from banks, individuals and family offices, and has a portfolio of 60 companies including online education platform MasterClass, inclusive lingerie brand bare barmeat substitute brand Impossible Foods and wig customization platform Perfect.

“There is such a chronic level of undercapitalization for companies owned and led by women, racialized people and Indigenous people,” says Christie Stephenson, executive director of the Peter P. Dhillon Center for Business Ethics at the Sauder School of Business. Even though total venture capital funding reached record levels in 2021, funding for women-led businesses fell to its lowest level since 2016. Funding start-ups founded by black entrepreneurs also fell Last year. “These celebrity investors can leverage the power of their money and profile to make a difference in the business world and who has access to funding,” Stephenson said.

Williams isn’t the only celebrity or athlete to have invested in Canadian companies lately. In March, Canadian actress Nina Dobrev and singer Shawn Mendes invested an undisclosed amount in Vancouver-based candy company SmartSweets. In March 2021, basketball stars Kyle Lowry and Kevin Durant take part in Vancouver-based blockchain startup Dapper Labs’ $305 million funding round. Last year, rapper Drake and actor Ryan Reynolds also joined a star-studded list of 10+ venture capitalists and celebrities to fund Canadian fintech Wealthsimple’s $750 million funding round. (Wealthsimple’s raise, which pushed it to a $5 billion valuation, was one of the biggest funding deals of 2021.)

Beyond money, celebrities lend another form of power to the companies they invest in: social capital. Michael Katchen, CEO of Wealthsimple had said he hoped to leverage the influence of A-listers to promote his fintech brand, which targets millennial investors. Some experts to think that Getting celebrities to invest in companies they believe in also helps build brand awareness, which makes it easier for companies to market a product or service to consumers.

But for celebrity investors to really have an impact, Stephenson thinks more stars should use the power of their capital and profile to support companies owned and run by diverse entrepreneurs, like Williams does. Chan, CEO of Calico, said to Betakit that the support of Williams and Serena Ventures is invaluable given that the athlete has her own clothing collection and understands the industry.

“They don’t just come from an experienced background, they know the nuance,” Chan told the outlet. “I think that’s very, very important, especially in this space, because you can’t build something generic.”

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