Silicon Valley Bank’s Collapse Causes Strain for Young Companies

Ashley Tyrner opened an account with Silicon Valley Bank for her company, FarmboxRx, two years ago. She was setting out to raise venture capital and knew the bank was a go-to for the start-up industry.

On Thursday, after reading about financial instability at the bank, she rushed to move FarmboxRx’s money into two other bank accounts. Her wire transfers didn’t go through. And on Friday, Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, tying up cash totaling eight figures for her company, which delivers food to Medicare and Medicaid participants.

“None of my reps will call me back,” Ms. Tyrner said. “It’s the worst 24 hours of my life.”

Her despair was part of the fallout across the start-up ecosystem from the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. Entrepreneurs raced to get loans to make payroll because their money was frozen at the bank. Investors doled out and asked for advice in memos and on emergency conference calls. Lines formed outside the bank’s branches. And many in the tech industry were glued to Twitter, where the collapse of a linchpin financial partner played out in real time.

The implosion rattled a start-up industry already on edge. Hurt by rising interest rates and an economic slowdown over the past year, start-up funding — which had been supercharged by low interest rates for years — has shriveled, resulting in mass layoffs at many young companies, cost-cutting and slashed valuations. Investments in U.S. start-ups dropped 31 percent last year to $238 billion, according to PitchBook.

On top of that, the fall of Silicon Valley Bank was especially troubling because it was the self-described “financial partner of the innovation economy.” The bank, founded in 1983 and based in Santa Clara, Calif., was deeply entangled in the tech ecosystem, providing banking services to nearly half of all venture-backed technology and life-science companies in the United States, according to its website.

Silicon Valley Bank was also a bank to more than 2,500 venture capital firms, including Lightspeed, Bain Capital and Insight Partners. It managed the personal wealth of many tech executives and was a stalwart sponsor of Silicon Valley tech conferences, parties, dinners and media outlets.

The bank was a “systemically important financial institution” whose services were “immensely enabling for start-ups,” said Matt Ocko, an investor at the venture capital firm DCVC.

On Friday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation took control of Silicon Valley Bank’s $175 billion in customer deposits. Deposits of up to $250,000 were insured by the regulator. Beyond that, customers have received no information on when they will regain access to their money.

That left many of the bank’s clients in a bind. On Friday, Roku, the TV streaming company, said in a filing that roughly $487 million of its $1.9 billion in cash was tied up with Silicon Valley Bank. The deposits were largely uninsured, Roku said, and it did not know “to what extent” it would be able to recover them.

Josh Butler, the chief executive of CompScience, a workplace safety analytics start-up, said he was unable to get his company’s money out of the bank on Thursday or before the bank’s collapse on Friday. The last day, he said, had been nerve-racking.

“Everyone from my investors to employees to my own mother are reaching out to ask what’s going on,” Mr. Butler said. “The big question is how soon will we be able to get access to the rest of the funds, how much if at all? That’s absolutely scary.”

CompScience was pausing spending on marketing, sales and hiring until it solved more pressing concerns, like making payroll. Mr. Butler said he had been prepared for a big crunch, given the doom and gloom swirling around the industry.

But “did I expect it to be Silicon Valley Bank?” he said. “Never.”

Camp, a start-up selling gifts and experiences for children, added a banner to its website on Friday that read: “OUR BANK JUST CLOSED — SO EVERYTHING IS ON SALE!”

The site offered 40 percent off with the promo code “bankrun” alongside a meme that included the words “i never liked the bay area” and “how could this happen.” A Camp representative said the sale was related to Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse and declined to comment further.

Sheel Mohnot, an investor at Better Tomorrow Ventures, said his venture firm advised its start-ups on Thursday to move money into Treasuries and open other bank accounts out of prudence.

“Once a bank run has started, it’s hard to stop,” he said.

Some of the start-ups that Mr. Mohnot’s firm has invested in chose not to move their money, while others were unable to act in time before the bank failed, he said. Now their biggest concern was making payroll, followed by figuring out how to pay their bills, he said.

Haseeb Qureshi, an investor at Dragonfly, a cryptocurrency-focused venture capital firm, said his firm was counseling several of its start-ups that had funds tied up in Silicon Valley Bank.

“The first thing you think about is survival,” he said. “It’s a harrowing moment for a lot of people.”

Non-tech start-ups were also grappling with the fallout. Vox Media, the publisher of New York Magazine and The Verge, has a substantial concentration of cash at Silicon Valley Bank, a person briefed on the company’s holdings said. The company’s credit cards, which Silicon Valley Bank issued, stopped working on Friday.

A person familiar with Vox Media’s operations said the company didn’t expect any disruption to its business, including payroll. Penske Media, Vox Media’s largest shareholder, said in a statement that it was ready if the company required additional capital but added that it didn’t foresee any issues.

Other start-ups were benefiting from the bank’s collapse. On Friday afternoon, Brex, a provider of financial services to start-ups, unveiled an “emergency bridge line of credit” for new customers migrating from Silicon Valley Bank. The service was aimed at helping those start-ups shore up expenses like payroll.

For part of Thursday, Brex received billions of dollars in deposits from several thousand companies, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The company rushed to open accounts as fast as possible to meet demand, with its chief executive reviewing applications, the person said.

But by Thursday afternoon, the incoming deposits to Brex slowed to a halt, as founders began reporting that Silicon Valley Bank’s online portal had frozen and customers were no longer able to access their money, the person said.

Many venture capital firms had also used lines of credit with Silicon Valley Bank to make investments quickly and smoothly, Mr. Ocko of DCVC said. Those lines of credit are now frozen, he said.

Mr. Ocko added that he did not foresee systemic collapse among start-ups and tech, but predicted “pain and friction and uncertainty and complexity in the middle of what’s already a painful macro environment for start-ups.”

To stave off any taint from Silicon Valley Bank, some venture funds blasted updates to their backers. Sydecar, a service that facilitates venture capital deals, shared a list of the banks it uses that were not affected. Origin Ventures promised to help companies “create contingency plans around working capital.”

Another venture firm outlined its exposure to Silicon Valley Bank and apologized in a memo, saying, “This is the worst email I’ve ever had to write to you.” The memo was seen by The New York Times.

Entrepreneurs also weighed into group chats with the dollar amounts that they could no longer tap at Silicon Valley Bank or what they had managed to pull out, ranging from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions, according to communications viewed by The Times.

A trickle of customers walked up to Silicon Valley Bank’s branch in Menlo Park, Calif., on Friday afternoon and discovered that its doors were locked. Some read an F.D.I.C. notice, taped by the entrance, that said the regulator was in control.

One person who tried the doors was carrying a Chick-fil-A bag. A woman in the office cracked a door open, asked who the person was and then took the bag with a smile. Then she pulled the door shut.

Reporting was contributed by Kalley Huang, Mike Isaac, David Yaffe-Bellany and Kellen Browning from the Bay Area, and Benjamin Mullin from New York.

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