Maria Sharapova Takes Equity Stake in Investment Platform

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  • Former top tennis player Maria Sharapova has taken an equity stake in investment platform
  • Sharapova says she supports the WTA's decision to suspend tournaments in China.

Former top-ranked tennis star Maria Sharapova is looking to make financial literacy more accessible. The tennis champion and entrepreneur announced Monday that she has taken an equity stake in, a company that lets you buy and sell stocks and cryptocurrencies online. Sharapova did not disclose the size of her stake.

"Since I was a very young girl, as a teenager, I made my first big paycheck by winning Wimbledon and to be honest, the financial investment space is one that's very intimidating," Sharapova told CNBC. "I appreciate how Public is more user-friendly, and offers a simplified way to educate yourself to make investing less intimidating."

Sharapova knows a thing or two about making money. For 11 straight years she held the title of highest-paid female athlete, according to Forbes.

She says in addition to her financial stake in Public, she will host events, share advice and serve as an advisor for NCAA student-athletes on the platform.

Public was founded in September 2019 by Jannick Malling, who now serves as co-CEO. Today, the platform that allows users to build portfolios and invest in stocks and cryptocurrency has more than 1 million users, 90% of which are first-time investors. The company says its user base grew 13 times in 2020.

Public has raised $310 million in funding, with investment from Accel, Greycroft and Lake Star. Other big-name investors include actor Will Smith, NFL player JJ Watt, media mogul Shari Redstone, businessman Dick Parsons and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

"One of the most important reasons of my investment into Public is the incredible stat that 40% of the audience on the Public app is female, which in this space, is almost unheard of," said Sharapova. In addition to attracting women, 45% of Public's users are Black or people of color.

For Sharapova, her unique upbringing as a professional tennis player gave her a front-line seat to the business world. The young tennis player came to the United States from Russia as a 7 year old with just $700 in her pocket. Her career quickly took off, and she become the top tennis player in the world on five separate occasions. During that time, she gained high-profile endorsement deals with companies from Nike to Pepsi to Porsche.

In 2012, Sharapova launched her own company, Sugarpova, a successful candy and sweets brand. The company now reportedly earns more than $20 million per year. Sharapova has also invested companies in the health and wellness space such as Tonal, Therabody and SuperGoop. Despite her success, she's always trying to learn more.

"I try to grab as much education from meetings, sitting in boardrooms, to looking at my own contracts, and not having too many external people doing it for me," she said.

Sharapova retired from the professional tennis circuit in 2020, following nagging injuries and a failed doping test that sidelined her for 15 months.

While Sharapova made her name on the tennis courts playing for nearly two decades and earning five Grand Slam titles, she's optimistic about what lies ahead.

"The first chapter was incredible and I got to experience so much in my youth but there's something about this next chapter that gets me just as excited," she said.

The former tennis ace says she spends much of her day focusing on her many business ventures, however she says she has kept a close eye on the Peng Shuai situation in China. On Nov. 2, Chinese tennis player Shuai alleged sexual assault by a top Chinese government official. Women's Tennis Association chief Steve Simon made the decision on Dec. 1 to suspend all tour events in China because he says that Shuai's allegations have not been listened to or taken seriously. This decision will cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. The Chinese government responded to the WTA's decision by accusing it of "putting on an exaggerated show."

"I've actually been incredibly impressed by how the the WTA has stood up and took a stance. Steve Simon doing the right thing has been wonderful," she added.

Sharapova says she hopes and prays that her former colleague and rival and her family are safe.

"I think of people before I think of business, I think of the human element and that's why I'm in complete support of the tour," she said.

Correction: Steve Simon is chief of the Women's Tennis Association. An earlier version misstated the name of the organization.

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