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Start-ups get ‘debt’ serious

Growing companies have found a new friend in venture debt funds, who help tide over bad times and enforce much needed financial discipline

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Who could have imagined that one of the fastest-growing asset classes in the country today was conceived over a poker game? This was in the early eighties. The game was played every Friday night, the players included technologists, builders and Ivy League alumni from Silicon Valley, among them Bill Biggerstaff and Robert Medearis, and they discussed business. The group had observed the rise of start-ups and the neglect that they experienced from conventional financial services. One weekend in 1981, after a game and while cooking for their families that Saturday, Biggerstaff and Medearis pitched the idea of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) to their poker gang and surprisingly all were in. The bank was registered in 1983, more than two decades after venture equity took off in the US. It was the formal start of venture debt financing.