Serena Williams Invests in Startup to Boost Black Tech Talent

By Jennifer Zabasajja

Tennis superstar Serena Williams is expanding her personal portfolio with a new investment in a Seattle-based startup that’s attempting to close the opportunity gap for Black talent.

Williams will work with Karat, which helps businesses conduct technical interviews, in a “strategic” capacity, to double the number of Black software engineers working in the technology industry.

Serena Williams, professional athlete, speaks during the Bitcoin 2022 conference in Miami, Florida, U.SS., on Thursday, April 7, 2022. The Bitcoin 2022 four-day conference is touted by organizers as “the biggest Bitcoin event in the world.”

“This one really stuck out to me,” Williams said in an interview. “Diversity in tech in particular is a big driving force for me that impacts how I feel, think and move as an entrepreneur and as an investor.”

Williams has been investing in technology for years and heads her own venture capital firm, Serena Ventures, which raised $111 million last month in its inaugural fund.

Karat said Williams’s investment and championship mindset will help expand the company’s Brilliant Black Minds program to include new curricula and workshops for aspiring Black tech talent, especially those from historically Black colleges and universities. Only 5% of U.S. software engineers currently are Black, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We were just looking at our data and realizing how few Black engineers get access to practice interviews for their dream jobs,” said Mohit Bhende, co-founder and chief executive officer of Karat. “So we said, where can we find someone who understands practice more than anybody else? And that led us to Serena.”

Specific financial details weren’t disclosed, though Williams says she intends to use her platform to help get young people through the door.

“A lot of things that I do in my regular time is helping other founders and other companies build,” Williams said. “Part of that is realizing that the first 5, 10, 20 hires are really important for how companies build, function and the overall ethos. If the company is large enough, it can even help build the wealth of those people. So we want to make sure everyone is involved in that conversation.” 

Black software engineers face multiple barriers to entry for jobs in the tech industry, from structural inequities that delay early exposure to computer science to limited information about how the industry hires. Black candidates also have fewer connections in their professional networks, and less opportunity to practice technical interviews. 

Anthony Mays, who left his role as a Google software engineer and is a senior adviser to the Brilliant Black Minds project, knows what it feels like to navigate the tech industry.

“I grew up in a place where not many people had access to a computer,” said Mays, who is Black. “There weren’t people that I could tap on the shoulder, and I think that matters.”

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