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Serena Williams talks investing, building on success at Cincinnati's Black Tech Week

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CINCINNATI — Hundreds of techies from around the country gathered at Cincinnati Musical Hall for the highlight of the annual Black Tech Week conference.

Serena Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player ever, talked about her newest venture: funding startups.

Sporting a dress from her own “S by Serena” brand, Williams took the stage to represent her $111 million venture capital fund, Serena Ventures.

“Little by little, I would start investing in one company, and one company, and I made a bad investment here or there,” Williams said.

Williams used just her money for seven to eight years until hearing a game-changing statistic. About 98% of funding goes to white men. The rest go to women and people of color.

“I think the only way to change that is to have people that look like me … that look like you guys to be writing the big checks,” Williams said. “That’s when I said I want to start Serena Ventures and expand the angel portfolio, because that number I can’t compute.”

In the audience, Cincinnati resident Sarah Perry said she hopes people walk away remembering that moment.

“The message was there that hit home for me — I hope everybody leaves out of here and tries to help someone else,” Perry said.

The 23-time Grand Slam winner spoke at Lightship Foundation’s event for 45 minutes Thursday, explaining her journey as an investor and talking about her childhood ventures.

“I was in fourth grade and I was selling donuts,” Williams said. “We would buy them for like 99 cents and we would sell them at school for a quarter each and then we would go buy some more, but I spent all my money at the ice cream truck.”

Williams joked about how that made her a bad investor, but those in the crowd said it’s clear she’s doing something right.

“I think it’s inspirational for someone to find success in one area and then challenge themselves to continue to build success in other ways,” Bianca Daniels of Columbus said.

Black Tech Week organizers are hosting a job fair at Washington Park from noon to 4 p.m. Kroger, Eli Lilly, TQL and more will be hiring for tech jobs and other roles they need to fill.

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