Startups ‘on pins and needles’ until their funding is removed from Silicon Valley Bank: NPR End-shutdown

A property manager representative passes a sign at the Silicon Valley Banks headquarters in Santa Clara, California, on March 10, 2023.

NOAH BERGER/AFP via Getty Images

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NOAH BERGER/AFP via Getty Images

A property manager representative passes a sign at the Silicon Valley Banks headquarters in Santa Clara, California, on March 10, 2023.

NOAH BERGER/AFP via Getty Images

Lindsey Hoell began her fifth attempt to open a new bank account in the Bay Area on Monday.

He had been trying for days as chaos reigned throughout the banking system. Hoell is one of hundreds of startup founders mired in the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, left unable to pay payroll, pay customers and collect money from customers.

“It was very, very chaotic,” said Hoell, CEO and co-founder of shipment of goods, a climate-focused startup that helps companies reuse packaging to reduce waste. “If it hadn’t been me, it would have been funny because it was so absurd. We thought, ‘How is this our life?’”

Silicon Valley Bank is a 40-year-old institution headquartered in Santa Clara, California, which served nearly half of all VC-backed US tech startups. Rumors of a bank run began on Thursday and by Friday it had collapsed, becoming the biggest U.S. bank failure since the 2008 financial crisis.

On Sunday, federal officials announced a bailout plan in which all Silicon Valley Bank depositors would have access to their accounts by Monday.

Silicon Valley Bank’s website was still down early Monday, but by mid-morning it appeared to be up and running. Customers said they could start making electronic transfers to accounts at other banks.

NPR spoke to four startup founders who said they’ve been able to initiate the transfers and are now holding their breath to see if they go through.

“I think the deal will go through tomorrow,” said Jack Singh, referring to the bank transfers for its start-up, avahi, which helps businesses with Amazon cloud technology. “Until then, we’ll definitely be on pins and needles and watching and updating our browsers.”

Trying to make payroll

Last Thursday was a totally different story.

Singh was sitting down to lunch when his CFO called to say that they should move some of their funds out of Silicon Valley Bank. By the end of lunch, panic had seized them. The cables did not go through and they could not communicate with the bank.

Singh drove to a Silicon Valley Bank branch in Santa Clara on Friday morning.

“We were standing in line there and there was nobody on the bench,” Singh said.

Hoell went through the same test. After desperately trying to transfer money on Thursday and failing, he also drove to a branch on Friday. A security guard told dozens of people waiting in line that the federal government had taken over and their assets were frozen.

Hoell got a number to call and was told to report his assets.

“And you call it and it’s just a voicemail box,” Hoell said. “I’m like, ‘Am I supposed to say, ‘I’m Lindsey Hoell and I have all this money in this account?’… It felt like we were throwing mud at a wall to see if we could progress in any way possible.”

Hoell had all the money for Dispatch Goods at Silicon Valley Bank.

She was desperate to make sure she would be able to pay her payroll on Monday, so she started driving to any bank she could find to open a checking account. Although she was able to open a savings account last Thursday, she still needed a checking account to be able to pay employees.

“We were starting to look at banks to open an account,” Hoell said.

Singh was in a similar situation, but he came up with a different payroll solution.

“I drew on my own savings to draw some of the funds to meet the employee payroll requirements,” he said. “We were able to send them a one-time payment through my personal account.”

the days ahead

When Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, Vanessa Pham and Kim Pham posted an open letter on Instagram saying the event “really rocked our little corner of the universe” and posed a “major existential threat” to many small businesses.

The sisters are the founders of umsoma food startup that makes Vietnamese sauce kits, and he had all his money in the bank.

Now that the federal government has instituted its bailout, things feel better, but Vanessa Pham said she’s still nervous.

“We are relieved, but still unsure: we can really breathe easier when our transfers have been credited to our new bank account,” Pham said. “With the government stepping up, we think the fire alarm should sound soon, but we are still confirming access to our funds and the future still feels uncertain.”

Similarly, Kamal Kapadia, co-founder of climate education startup Terra.dohe told NPR’s All Things Considered that the past few days have been surreal.

All of the company’s money was tied up at Silicon Valley Bank, and as of Monday morning, its wire transfers were still pending. was able to pay the payroll last week before the collapse, but it is not clear if it actually took place, he said.

“We assume we can do this payroll,” Kapadia said. “The question is: after this, we still don’t know.”

Kapadia, Pham and Singh said that in the future, they all plan to work with established banks and start using multiple bank accounts.

Hoell said his attempt to open a checking account finally succeeded Monday afternoon, this time with Wells Fargo. He now he said that he can pay the payroll by writing paper checks for his employees, if necessary. She is relieved that at least this part of the drama is over.

“Now it’s just tactics,” Hoell said. “This is becoming a nuisance in the face of a catastrophe.”

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