By Kamaron Leach
Tennis icon Venus Williams is joining private equity firm Topspin Consumer Partners to focus on investing in health and wellness businesses.
The seven-time Grand Slam title holder will take on the role of operating partner at the middle-market investment shop. The industry is grappling with a slowing economy and tightening credit markets, but Williams is adamant the right assets are out there.
“Now you have to find real businesses that make real sense. And there’s still room for growth in so many industries, despite what’s happening in the marketplace,” Williams said in an interview. “It’s definitely a different market but that also provides more opportunity.”
Williams is a “terrific addition to the team,” said Topspin Managing Partner Leigh Randall.
“We wanted someone who could really help us on the health and wellness front,” Randall said, “and also in areas like beauty and personal care — areas where we invest in a lot.”
The firm also “wanted someone with access to deal flow” given her prior entrepreneurial and personal investing work, Randall added.
In February, Topspin acquired Firefly Buys LLC, a full-service e-commerce accelerator, through its portfolio company reCommerce. The target is one of the largest North American sellers on Amazon, according to the firm’s website.
Williams, 42, follows other former athletes who joined the investing world, from New York Yankees player Alex Rodriguez to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, as well as celebrities such as Kim Kardashian. Williams, who grew up in Compton, California, is well aware that she’s entering a sector that doesn’t quite look like her.
“There’s a lot of industries that African Americans have historically not penetrated — even tennis,” she said. “I spend a lot of time in industries that need that penetration, and I also find in a lot of ways for that to be a calling.”
There are a number of hurdles — mainly underfunding and unfavorable terms — for business owners among under-represented communities.
“All of those things are important, and I want to bring everyone up with me as I go on my ride and I start to explore other areas outside of the court,” Williams said.
Nestled just outside of Manhattan in Westchester County, Topspin was founded in 2000 initially as a venture capital firm. After Randall joined in 2004 to build the private equity business, the firm later decided to zero in on consumer-focused investments. Topspin today seeks to make control investments on the lower end of the middle market.
Williams, who’s a four-time Olympic gold medalist, won’t put a deadline on completing her first deal under the Topspin moniker. She said “slow and steady” is the best approach for a deal right now.
“It’s really, really interesting that this is where I landed,” Williams said in an interview, in a nod to the firm’s name. “I love the tennis connection and obviously I love tennis, so that’s dope.”
Last year, Topspin invested in Mission, a company whose founders included athletes. One of them was Williams’ sister Serena, also a tennis champion, and another co-founder was Topspin operating partner Josh Shaw, who helped facilitate the introduction and hiring of Venus Williams.
After Venus Williams withdrew in January from the Australian Open because of injuries, questions have swirled about whether she will join her sister in retiring from the game. With Topspin among her responsibilities now, Williams said she’ll have something keeping her busy while she’s sidelined.
“At the moment, I’m making sure that I’m healthy,” she said. “And then I’ll go from there.”
(Updates with background on former athletes in investing world in eighth paragraph.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.