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Silicon Valley Bank acquires stake in Brent Hoberman’s Founders Forum empire

The US-HQ’d debt funding provider wants a slice of the Founders Forum branding pie

By Amy O'Brien

Brent Hoberman, cofounder and chairman of Founders Forum Group

OG startup banking giant Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has taken a “part-ownership” stake in UK tech empire Founders Forum Group (FF Group), for an undisclosed sum. It’s part of a growing trend of financial institutions looking to capture tech founder attention by owning media and events. 

Neither party is disclosing the details of the investment. But we do know that SVB will now be a leading partner of Founders Forum’s flagship events — including its storied annual summer event at Soho Farmhouse where Tory politicians rub shoulders with entrepreneurs over grilled lobster and champagne. 

A spokesperson for SVB tells Sifted that part of the objective of the partnership is to “get closer” to FF Group’s founder network and portfolio companies so that it can provide them with banking and lending services, including its bread and butter — debt facilities. 

Despite the tech slowdown, providing capital to fast-growing tech companies can be extremely lucrative. And that makes marketing and branding to founders important. Case in point: US VC giant Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) launched its own media platform, Future, last summer to publish content on whatever it wants to.

As part of the deal, SVB’s UK CEO Erin Platts is joining the FF Group board. She will join co-founders, Brent Hoberman and Henry Lane Fox on the FF Group Board, alongside Carolyn Dawson and Alex Roth from Informa (which bought a minority stake in 2019), with Jonathan Goodwin serving on its event advisory board. 

What’s in it for Founders Forum and SVB?

Someone’s got to pay for that champagne. FF Group’s filings shed next to no light on the health of the company, so we don’t quite know how lucrative its events or portfolio bets have been — or whether this is an effective line of business at all. 

But its growth plans sound expensive. Sifted recently reported that its Founders Factory arm is launching in Italy soon; it already has outposts for this in Berlin, Bratislava, Johannesburg and New York. 

“The partnership will enable us to continue to improve the quality and depth of our events every year and further broaden our transatlantic reach,” FF Group chairman Brent Hoberman said in a statement announcing the deal.

“In addition, we will look to launch more ventures in Europe and explore opportunities to do this with SVB.”

FF Group didn’t comment on exactly what these new ventures would entail — but it’s worth noting that after years ruling the roost on the UK tech scene, the company seems to be prioritising international expansion right now. 

Despite the fact that it’s Europe’s most active venture debt provider, SVB doesn’t quite have the brand clout that Hoberman has built for FF Group. FF Group has collaborated with tonnes of tech companies; that’s a lot of leads for deploying millions more in loans. 

*This article has been updated to say that Erin Platts will be Founders Forum Group’s second female board member, after originally stating first. 

Amy O’Brien is Sifted’s fintech reporter. She writes Sifted’s fintech newsletter and tweets from @Amy_EOBrien.

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