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Timeline: The Shocking Collapse of Silicon Valley Bank

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Infographic showing the lead-up to the collapse of SVB

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Timeline: The Shocking Collapse of Silicon Valley Bank

Just days ago, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was still viewed as a highly-respected player in the tech space, counting thousands of U.S. venture capital-backed startups as its customers.

But fast forward to the end of last week, and SVB was shuttered by regulators after a panic-induced bank run.

So, how exactly did this happen? We dig in below.

Road to a Bank Run

SVB and its customers generally thrived during the low interest rate era, but as rates rose, SVB found itself more exposed to risk than a typical bank. Even so, at the end of 2022, the bank’s balance sheet showed no cause for alarm.

Summary of the SVB balance sheet at the end of 2022

As well, the bank was viewed positively in a number of places. Most Wall Street analyst ratings were overwhelmingly positive on the bank’s stock, and Forbes had just added the bank to its Financial All-Stars list.

Outward signs of trouble emerged on Wednesday, March 8th, when SVB surprised investors with news that the bank needed to raise more than $2 billion to shore up its balance sheet.

The reaction from prominent venture capitalists was not positive, with Coatue Management, Union Square Ventures, and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund moving to limit exposure to the 40-year-old bank. The influence of these firms is believed to have added fuel to the fire, and a bank run ensued.

Also influencing decision making was the fact that SVB had the highest percentage of uninsured domestic deposits of all big banks. These totaled nearly $152 billion, or about 97% of all deposits.

ℹ️ The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures up to $250,000 per account, per bank, for depositors.

By the end of the day, customers had tried to withdraw $42 billion in deposits.

What Triggered the SVB Collapse?

While the collapse of SVB took place over the course of 44 hours, its roots trace back to the early pandemic years.

In 2021, U.S. venture capital-backed companies raised a record $330 billion—double the amount seen in 2020. At the time, interest rates were at rock-bottom levels to help buoy the economy.

Matt Levine sums up the situation well: “When interest rates are low everywhere, a dollar in 20 years is about as good as a dollar today, so a startup whose business model is “we will lose money for a decade building artificial intelligence, and then rake in lots of money in the far future” sounds pretty good. When interest rates are higher, a dollar today is better than a dollar tomorrow, so investors want cash flows. When interest rates were low for a long time, and suddenly become high, all the money that was rushing to your customers is suddenly cut off.”

YearU.S. Venture Capital ActivityAnnual % Change
2021$330B98%
2020$167B15%
2019$145B1%
2018$144B64%
2017$88B6%
2016$83B-3%

Source: Pitchbook

Why is this important? During this time, SVB received billions of dollars from these venture-backed clients. In one year alone, their deposits increased 100%. They took these funds and invested them in longer-term bonds. As a result, this created a dangerous trap as the company expected rates would remain low.

During this time, SVB invested in bonds at the top of the market. As interest rates rose higher and bond prices declined, SVB started taking major losses on their long-term bond holdings.

Losses Fueling a Liquidity Crunch

When SVB reported its fourth quarter results in early 2023, Moody’s Investor Service, a credit rating agency took notice. In early March, it said that SVB was at high risk for a downgrade due to its significant unrealized losses.

In response, SVB looked to sell $2 billion of its investments at a loss to help boost liquidity for its struggling balance sheet. Soon, more hedge funds and venture investors realized SVB could be on thin ice. Depositors withdrew funds in droves, spurring a liquidity squeeze and prompting California regulators and the FDIC to step in and shut down the bank.

What Happens Now?

While much of SVB’s activity was focused on the tech sector, the bank’s shocking collapse has rattled a financial sector that is already on edge.

The four biggest U.S. banks lost a combined $52 billion the day before the SVB collapse. On Friday, other banking stocks saw double-digit drops, including Signature Bank (-23%), First Republic (-15%), and Silvergate Capital (-11%).

NameStock Price Change, March 10 2023Unrealized Losses / Tangible Equity
SVB Financial-60%*-99%
First Republic Bank-15%-29%
Zions Bancorp-2%-47%
Comerica-5%-47%
U.S. Bancorp-4%-55%
Fifth Third Bancorp-4%-38%
Bank of America-1%-54%
Wells Fargo1%-33%
JPMorgan-1%-21%

Source: Morningstar Direct. *Represents March 9 data, trading halted on March 10.

When the dust settles, it’s hard to predict the ripple effects that will emerge from this dramatic event. For investors, the Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen announced confidence in the banking system remaining resilient, noting that regulators have the proper tools in response to the issue.

But others have seen trouble brewing as far back as 2020 (or earlier) when commercial banking assets were skyrocketing and banks were buying bonds when rates were low.

The whole sector is in crisis, and the banks and investors that support these assets are going to have to figure out what to do.-Christopher Whalen, The Institutional Risk Analyst

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Where are Immigrant Founders of U.S. Unicorns From?

The majority of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. have at least one immigrant founder. Here is where those founders are from.

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u.s. startup founders from other countries

Where are Immigrant Founders of U.S. Unicorns From?

The majority of U.S. unicorns—private startups worth more than $1 billion—have at least one immigrant founder, according to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

While some of the companies and founders are well known, like SpaceX from South Africa’s Elon Musk, hundreds of lesser-known unicorns have been founded from the top talent of just a handful of countries.

This visual using NFAP data lays out the countries which are home to the most U.S. billion-dollar startup founders as of May 2022.

Note: These rankings are based on unicorn valuations as of May 2022. As valuations regularly fluctuate, some companies may have gained or lost unicorn status since that time.

Countries with the Most U.S. Unicorn Founders

Here’s a look at the countries that these immigrant founders come from.

The 382 founders accounted for below have combined to start 319 of 582 U.S.-based unicorns.

RankCountry# Founders of
U.S. Unicorns
1🇮🇳 India66
2🇮🇱 Israel54
3🇬🇧 United Kingdom27
4🇨🇦 Canada22
5🇨🇳 China21
6🇫🇷 France18
7🇩🇪 Germany15
8🇷🇺 Russia11
9🇺🇦 Ukraine10
10🇮🇷 Iran8
11🇦🇺 Australia7
T12🇮🇹 Italy6
T12🇳🇬 Nigeria6
T12🇵🇱 Poland6
T12🇷🇴 Romania6
T16🇦🇷 Argentina5
T16🇧🇷 Brazil5
T16🇳🇿 New Zealand5
T16🇵🇰 Pakistan5
T16🇰🇷 South Korea5
T21🇩🇰 Denmark4
T21🇵🇹 Portugal4
T21🇪🇸 Spain4
T24🇧🇾 Belarus3
T24🇧🇬 Bulgaria3
T24🇮🇪 Ireland3
T24🇰🇪 Kenya3
T24🇱🇧 Lebanon3
T24🇵🇭 Philippines3
T24🇿🇦 South Africa3
T24🇹🇼 Taiwan3
T24🇹🇷 Turkey3
T33🇦🇲 Armenia2
T33🇨🇿 Czech Republic2
T33🇬🇷 Greece2
T33🇲🇽 Mexico2
T33🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia2
T33🇸🇬 Singapore2
T33🇨🇭 Switzerland2
T33🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2
T41🇦🇹 Austria1
T41🇧🇩 Bangladesh1
T41🇧🇧 Barbados1
T41🇨🇴 Colombia1
T41🇩🇴 Dominican Republic1
T41🇪🇬 Egypt1
T33🇬🇪 Georgia1
T41🇮🇶 Iraq1
T41🇯🇴 Jordan1
T41🇱🇻 Latvia1
T41🇱🇹 Lithuania1
T41🇲🇹 Malta1
T41🇲🇦 Morocco1
T41🇳🇱 Netherlands1
T41🇳🇴 Norway1
T41🇵🇪 Peru1
T41🇶🇦 Qatar1
T41🇸🇮 Slovenia1
T41🇻🇪 Venezuela1

Far in the lead is India with 66 startup founders and Israel with 54 startup founders. Together, they account for 31% of all unicorn founders listed. In fact, more than half of the immigrant unicorn founders came from just six countries: India, Israel, the UK, Canada, China, and France.

These immigrant founders have helped found many of the world’s biggest startups:

  • Stripe was co-founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison
  • Instacart’s founder and former CEO, Apoorva Mehta, was born in India, then moved to Libya and Canada as a child.
  • Big data startup Databricks was founded by a group of seven computer scientists from the University of California, including five immigrants from Iran, Romania, and China.
  • Immigration and Entrepreneurship

    Though some of these founders came to the U.S. as successful business leaders, the report noted that many immigrated as children or international students.

    In addition, there are another 51 founders (not included in the above statistics) that were not immigrants themselves but are first-generation Americans born to immigrant parents. Data from the report also shows that 80% of unicorns have an immigrant in some key role, whether it’s as a founder, a C-level executive, or some other crucial position.

    Even historically, some of the biggest companies in the U.S. were not founded by Americans. For example, the founders of Procter & Gamble emigrated from England and Ireland in the early 1800s. And today, one of the biggest companies in the U.S. is NVIDIA, which recently broached a trillion dollar market cap and whose founder is from Taiwan.

    The Ever-Changing Unicorn Landscape

    While this dataset is from mid-2022, it should be noted that the startup ecosystem has shifted drastically in just the last year.

    Rapidly rising interest rates and a slowdown in venture capital have conspired to create a more precarious fundraising environment, leading to down rounds and stagnation for some of these billion-dollar companies.

    In Q1 2023, unicorn births declined 89%, suggesting that in upcoming years the unicorn list—and the number of immigrant founders—may be subject to change.

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