On Wednesday this week, U.S. tennis star Serena Williams publicly launched her venture capital firm that she has kept from the public eye for close to 5 years. "In 2014, (yes I know I can keep a secret) I launched Serena Ventures," she wrote on her Instagram. Adding that the firms' mission is to give "opportunities to founders across an array of industries."
"Serena Ventures invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity and opportunity."
According to Serena's husband and Reddit Founder, Alexis Ohanian, she has also been secretly investing as an angel in "some remarkable" startups. The list of startups that she has backed includes Coinbase - whose last fundraise valued the company at over $8 billion. Per her VC firm's website, the portfolio size stands at 30 companies.
Among the companies that Serena has backed include African software talent recruitment startup, Andela. However, it is not clear which particular round the tennis star participated in.
Andela's last raise of $100 million was announced in January 2019 - which is the highest so far in 2019. It brought the firm's total funding raised to $181 million per Digest Africa VC Funding Leaderboard data making it the most VC funded private company in the past 10 years. Previously, Jumia was the most funded until it went public while Takealot was acquired by Naspers.
African startups have witnessed a growing number of high profile angel investor inject cash into them. Some of these angels include Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel who has individually backed some of the African startups that join Y Combinator accelerator including Paystack.
In March 2017, Nigeria's celebrated singer and record label owner Don Jazzy became one of the first high profile celebrity to join the technology space on the continent by co-founding the free wifi services startup, Flobyt. In May 2017, he was followed by South African famous celebrity DJ, Nkosinathi Maphumulo (better known as DJ Black Coffee) who participated in South Africa's on-demand cleaning services startup Sweepsouth's Series A.
Last year, South African 29-year-old celebrated TV personality Maps Maponyane also detailed his attempt to back a startup in 2014 but had to shut down at the end of 2018.
However, despite the growing interest, there is still room for more celebrities and sports people to back African startups. Yet this is not likely to happen anytime soon because, despite the debate on lack of high net-worth individuals investing in African startups, there has not been a debate on how startups can tap into the cash and fame that international and local celebrities, as well as sports personalities, can bring.