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Tales from San Francisco(2): Visionary Banking, Risky Data and ‘Paying it Forward’

Tangerine’s MD, B2B, Sam Gregory, is currently on a five-day business fact-finding mission in the United States, learning more about how some of the largest, most successful companies in the world got to be that way. Meeting CEOs, founders and other senior leaders of dot com businesses like Google and LinkedIn as well as more ‘traditional’ enterprises in construction, services and finance, Sam is hoping to return from her trip (with only 10 other North West businesspeople) with inspiration and ideas to share with clients and the Tangerine team.

This is her second piece for Prolific North, you can read the first here.


Sam Gregory Sam Gregory

So it’s day two of the trip and we’ve ventured out of the city and circumnavigated the whole Bay area to meet three of the biggest business brains on the West Coast – if not the whole of the US. It’s been quite a journey that has not disappointed. Here’s a summary of today’s enlightenments:

Bridgebank – How business banking should be?

Banks and bankers haven’t developed the best of reputations in recent years. Whether it’s ill-founded investments or their unwillingness to lend to businesses, broadly they’ve not done themselves many favours. However, Bridgebank has a different kind of vision.

The brainchild of some of the most experienced finance and business people in the sector, the company was developed specifically to meet the needs of the tech businesses in its Silicon Valley home.

Ed Lambert, Bridgebank’s senior VP, Technology Banking Division, explained that its offer is based on the core principle of business sustainability. They don’t stick to strict processes or subscribe to a ‘computer says no’ mentality. Rather they look at a business on its individual merit – the leadership team, the offer, the growth potential – and offer financial support based on real relationships and business acumen.

But the support doesn’t stop at money. Bridgebank actually partners with companies, supporting them on key business challenges so they can get on with the important stuff, like growing. It’s a simple, common sense approach – after all, they’re just protecting their investment – but this value added proposition has enabled it to ‘lock and load’ (as Ed puts it) some of the most exciting and entrepreneurial tech companies on the West Coast. Imagine the potential for UK business and innovation if we had a set up like this on our own shores?

Managing Risk with Symantec

With more than 18,500 employees in over 50 countries, Symantec is one of the world’s largest software companies. It provides security, storage and systems management solutions, and – as a fortune 500 company with a turnover of $6.2bn – the company knows a thing or two about it.

The importance of data protection cannot be overemphasised, but it’s easy for individuals as well as businesses to get complacent. Symantec evangelist, Dale Zabriske, acutely brought to life the risks to data in a society that expects wireless mobile connectivity whenever and wherever it wants it. Couple this with the increasing use of the cloud and there is a clear need for businesses to get more sophisticated when it comes to their data.

Mobile devices are increasingly the most vulnerable to virus attack, which can have a surprisingly far-reaching effect on a business though damage to networks and the like. The cloud on the other hand brings with it questions over data protection and highlights the importance for businesses to understand the value of their data and how best to protect it.

According to Dale, ‘carbon based life forms’ (i.e. us) rather than the technology itself are the biggest liability to data, so with this in mind, here are some useful tips that I picked up:

  • make your password as long as possible – phrases are best and much more effective than using symbols
  • use password generators (like to manage your passwords securely and make them work more effectively
  • don’t use Facebook to log in to other sites – it leaves a trial of breadcrumbs right to your precious data
  • always log out of secure areas – it’s tempting to cut corners to save time, but this can leave you exposed

Berkeley’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

The final visit of day 2 was of the academic variety at Berkeley Haas School of business. The amazing university campus was matched only by the passion and business brilliance of the professor we’d travelled there to meet, Jerry Engle, Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

With a whopping 50% of investment in emerging business for the whole of the US going into California – and the lion’s share of that to Silicon Valley – Jerry founded Berkeley’s entrepreneurship programme within the business school to build on the inherent entrepreneurial nature of the area.

According to Jerry, the foundation of this can-do spirit is based on a business community that is committed to ‘paying it forward’ (helping each other), not for financial gain, but for the kudos of being involved with and seen to be supporting the next big thing.

That said, for large companies who’ve moved out of their dynamic entrepreneurial phase, working with, investing in or acquiring emerging enterprises can provide a much needed injection of innovation into an offer. Throw VCs and investors into the mix and you create what Jerry describes as a ‘whirlwind of action’, the likes of which Silicon Valley has been enjoying for the past 50 years.

Could we recreate this in Manchester? Jerry believes so and thinks there is real opportunity in the recent development of Graphene – the thinnest, strongest material in existence – by scientists in Manchester University. There is now just the small matter of commercialising it, but what a huge opportunity for businesses with the vision and capability to make it happen. Graphene Valley has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

It’s my third and final day tomorrow. Let’s see what it brings…

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