MT Special: SVB comes to the UK to give entrepreneurs a boost

With entrepreneurs on the lookout for new sources of lending, Californian bank SVB is on hand to help.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Some entrepreneurs reckon getting their hands on the cold hard stuff is as difficult a task as persuading Cheryl Cole to go an entire episode of X-Factor without crying. Others say it’s the cost of finance that’s putting them off and instead they are opting to pass around the begging bowl to friends and family. Yet with small businesses being hailed as the saviours of the economy, it’s in all our best interests to make sure they get the wedge they need. And we may have just the thing…

Entrepreneurs in-the-know will be no stranger to Silicon Valley Bank – the commercial bank specialising in tech which is behind some of the hottest start-ups to come out of San Francisco since Google, including social network giants Facebook and Twitter. It’s certainly no small fry - in fact, 50% of tech companies in the US that have financial backing have SVB as their bank. Impressive stuff.

And SVB has expanded to this side of the Atlantic too. It has had lending operations in the UK since 2004, although it is yet to obtain its licence from the FSA to enable it to become a proper bank here. Once it gets its mitts on the licence (expected to be next summer) it will be able offer all the other banking services too, so business owners can do all their banking under one roof. And indeed some UK start-ups have already wised up to the ways in which it can help them – which go above and beyond dishing the dosh.

One of the things SVB is best known for is what it calls its ‘eco-system’ of support for entrepreneurs. What that means in practice is that every customer gets a relationship manager who will be a specialist in their field, they will regularly be invited to attend networking events and workshops, and, (saving the best until last) the bank has links with all the major VCs and will happily arrange intros and meetings. One British entrepreneur who banks with SVB in the states told MT that the value-added stuff is the primary reason he sticks with the bank.

Phil Cox, head of UK, Europe and Israel at SVB agrees that this is what gives them the edge on competitors in the UK. ‘In the US when they back a company, they really back it, and often the investors are entrepreneurs themselves. But in Europe VCs seem to be from more a financial background and are therefore more cautious and fixed on fast returns.’

And with David Cameron this week suggesting that he wants parts of the UK to rival Silicon Valley (particularly the east end of London) it’s handy that we’ve got a bit of Silicon Valley coming here. Yesterday the PM unearthed a raft of measures that should make life a little easier for entrepreneurs. These included introducing a special enterprise visa to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to come and launch their businesses here, as well as plans to relax our strict IP laws. (And about time too)

As Cox points out, there’s no reason we can’t compete with Silicon Valley as a hub of innovation in the tech space: ‘We’ve got the entrepreneurial business mindset, great academic research, a mature VC community and government support for science-based entrepreneurial businesses. All the ingredients are there.’ And we couldn’t be more inclined to agree. Go team GB.

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