Forbes: Maria Sharapova To Mentor Women Business Owners
By Danielle Rossingh
Maria Sharapova may be a multiple grand slam winner and one of the world’s best-paid athletes but she often still finds herself outnumbered by men when talking business.
Sharapova was only 25 when she invested $500,000 to found candy company Sugarpova. Six years on, it sells sweets and premium chocolate in 22 countries.
Now, female business owners in the US will be able to tap into the business brain of the five-time grand slam winner, who is teaming with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) to mentor female entrepreneurs.
“Meetings with distributors, from different retail chains and grocery stores, most of the time I am a female business owner in a crowded room of male professionals and CEOs ,” Sharapova said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, California.
“Although I do feel like I come from an angle somewhat of power, in terms of I have a successful product that I believe in, there is definitely an intimidation factor as well as an age factor ,” she said.
She hopes that some of her experiences, in turning a start-up into an international brand, will help other female business owners.
“It takes time to grow confident, and I think that’s also one of the things that I will be sharing my knowledge with with these women, especially that are young and in their 20s, or 30s, or ever late teenagers, that are still in school, that are developing something, that have a passion for something, that are incredibly talented and creative, but that are shy, that don’t want to go out there, that don’t want to explore,” she said.
“And I can relate to that, because I was certainly in that position many times, and I still am.”
A Wimbledon champion by the age of 17, Sharapova rose to the No. 1 ranking a year later and was the world’s best-paid female athlete for eleven years, earning close to $300 million in prize money and sponsorships, according to FORBES.
Since her 2004 Wimbledon triumph turned her into a global star almost overnight, Sharapova and her long-time agent at IMG, Max Eisenbud, have built a business empire that also includes lucrative endorsements with the likes of Porsche, Nike, Evian and HEAD; equity partnerships with skincare company Supergoop! and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the fastest growing sports organization in the world, as well as an investment in social experience platform charly.
“I was very fortunate to learn from some incredible companies and people in a room who were much more knowledgeable than I was,” Sharapova said.
“With that, I was able to understand what I was good at, to understand my flaws, to understand my strengths, to understand what it was that I wanted to invest in,” she said.
“I always had people that I could bounce information back and forth with, and I don’t think that women entrepreneurs really have that…although what they do have in their hands are great ideas that could eventually come to life and be very successful if they have the right mentorship,” she said.
Nationwide call for applicants
The Sharapova Women’s Entrepreneur Program starts this spring with a nationwide call for applicants, from which up to six business women will be selected for a 12-month-long mentorship program.
Each successful applicant will receive support and resources from Sharapova’s longtime marketing and business development teams as well as the NAWBO Institute.
“I will be in a room with them, and will be introducing them to a lot of team members at NAWBO and the team members that I currently have on my team, that have helped me take Sugarpova to where it is today, as well as some of the other businesses that I have,” Sharapova said.
When asked who she admired in the business world, Sharapova mentioned Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Uber’s chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John and Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Sharapova interned at Silver’s office in New York City in 2016 during her 15-month ban from tennis, after she tested positive for meldonium, a heart drug she had taken legitimately throughout her career but had failed to realize had been added to the banned list in Janary 2016.
“Just the way he led the team in a room, through allowing them their own voice and was poised, I was just really impressed,” she said about Silver. “I came out of that, for the few days I was in New York, I was like ‘this is what a leader looks like’.”
International Women’s Day
The partnership between Sharapova and NAWBO, which coincides with International Women’s Day on March 8, is very much about women helping women.
Loreen Gilbert, chair-elect of the National NAWBO Institute, executive board said the institute was “excited about partnering with Maria Sharapova in order to propel women to the next level of their business.”
Founded in 1975, NAWBO represents the interests of more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses, who employ close to nine million people and generate almost $1.7 trillion in revenues, making it the fastest-growing segment of the US economy.
Gilbert, who is also president of WealthWise Financial Services, called Sharapova “an inspiration, who has graciously agreed to share her expertise, business savvy and tenacity to help other women excel.”
As for Sharapova, she is looking forward to combining her new role with her busy day job as a top tennis player.
“I love working my brain so I think it will be a great experience for me, to understand where people are coming from, to understand their fears, to see people in different markets, and in different categories and get their feedback on how they see the current market,” she said.