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🏦 Stifel Bank: Helping Others Succeed

How Al Guerrero is building a startup inside a 130-year old financial institution

Hi folks,

Excited to share another LA startup profile. This week’s profile covers not a founder or investor, but rather an ecosystem partner without whom, LA’s entrepreneurship scene would not be possible.

If you’re a startup founder or VC in Los Angeles, I can almost guarantee you’re at most two degrees of separation from Al Guerrero. If you don’t know him, someone in your network does. Al is a fixture of the LA tech scene and, more importantly, is one of those people everyone likes instantly – one Zoom call, one conversation at an event, and you feel like Al is your best friend.

After years as a startup banker at SVB, Al is now building his own startup – a bank within a bank.

👦🏻 Early Life

Alejandro “Al” Guerrero’s story starts in San Francisco. Al was a Bay Area kid, raised by parents who emigrated from Mexico, met in English class, and got married soon after. When he was six years old, Al’s parents opened a Mexican restaurant in Berkeley called Guerrero’s, where he spent his evenings after school doing homework and helping out in the restaurant. Working while studying didn’t hold his (or his siblings’) grades back, though. He, his brother, and his sister all excelled in school, and all three attended UC Berkeley as first generation college students.

At Berkeley, Al studied business and, like many of us, didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life post-college.

I majored in business because in my mind, “business people have jobs” and education for me was a path to provide for my family since they had sacrificed so much to put me in this position.

He also participated in Inroads, a non-profit dedicated to helping minority students break into corporate America. The organization marked two of Al’s defining characteristics starting to come into focus. The first is Al’s consummate ability to make meaningful connections in the business world. He’s a networker in the best sense of the word – as I mentioned above, everyone knows Al! The second characteristic is Al’s dedication to diversity and helping immigrants and people of color succeed.

After college, Al moved an hour south to attend Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and then onto investment banking at Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles, a city he hasn’t left since.

👨🏻‍💼 LA and 2023 Banking Crisis

Like many Angelenos, Al dabbled in Hollywood for a while, leading innovation and eventually starting the venture arm of Technicolor, the storied post production company. Throughout his time there, Al and his teams worked with brands, movie studios, and startups to bring their visions to life.

This servant mission led Al to his next firm, Silicon Valley Bank, where many of you likely met him.

To be honest, entering the commercial banking sector wasn’t something that was on my radar, so it was a bit of a risk (for both SVB and me) when I took the role. But I believed I had found my career calling with that role. I could leverage everything I had done in the past – from my time as a venture capitalist, to my time at a startup, to my finance background. Even my time at my family’s restaurant was relevant as it was instrumental in building a strong belief in customer service.

Al spent six years at SVB in LA as a managing director. Al's time at SVB was marked by unwavering support for the Los Angeles startup ecosystem. He nurtured relationships with founders and investors, recognizing the pivotal role banking could play in supporting innovative ventures. His customer-centric approach and commitment to delivering exceptional service endeared him to the entrepreneurial community. After supporting hundreds of startups and venture funds, Al left the firm following the devastating bank run, which led to the collapse of SVB.

The banking crisis was very stressful for both our clients and the employees of the company. During this time, I felt a huge outpouring of support from the LA startup community, many members of which had reached out to check in on me. I vividly remember being overwhelmed with emotion (and tears) when I read all of the posts on LinkedIn supporting me the day after the bank run. The support I felt reaffirmed my resolve to continue supporting the LA startup ecosystem, both in good and challenging times, similar to how the ecosystem had been there for me.

👨🏻‍💻 Building Stifel West Coast Venture Banking 

But every crisis is an opportunity! Al had relationships and experience, which were now extremely desirable for other banks looking to move into the startup banking space, and Stifel came knocking.

I wanted to find a home that would be entrepreneurial, with the ability to move fast to support a client base that requires that level of responsiveness. I also wanted to go to a place that had experience in venture banking and that had strong CEO support. I found all of that at Stifel. Plus, when I found out that there were a total of 30 former SVBers moving over to Stifel, all of whom were the ‘best of the best’, it made my decision a no-brainer.

So what is Stifel and what does it do differently from its peers?

Stifel isn’t truly a startup – it’s a 130-year old financial institution. Al and the other ex-SVBers are building a startup within Stifel, though. The West Coast venture banking practice is brand new[GA(-LA1] , built from the ground up by Al and his team. In his own words,

Stifel’s Venture Banking is a full service commercial bank serving VC backed companies from inception to exit. After countless conversations with founders and investors, we have learned relationship-focused banking is critical to the venture ecosystem. To a degree, banking can be a commodity, and high-touch, white-glove service is what’s missing in the market. Our goal is to fill this gap and be available to support our clients at all times. For Seed and Series A companies, we are providing them a tailored banking bundle with flexibility, security and they can earn interest at very attractive rates. We are also active lenders to startups – issuing over 100 terms sheets in 100 days. From venture debt for Series A companies to lines of credit for later stage companies, we are here to support startups as they continue to scale.

We also bank venture funds, many of which may be struggling to find a bank that can support them. Our offering includes capital call lines which many banks aren’t as focused on providing in today’s market. Because of this focus, we have deep relationships with VCs that can prove to be helpful for our startups.

Lastly, we are actively supporting the SoCal Tech market. In the short time we’ve been at Stifel, we’ve already hosted over 14 events, and many of them were networking events for founders and VCs.

So who should talk to Al and his team at Stifel? To be honest, I’d say anyone looking for a good conversation, but anyone building a new startup or setting up a new venture fund is who they can help most.

Al has been a pillar of the LA tech scene for almost 10 years now, and it’s exciting to see him wearing his entrepreneurial hat with Stifel Venture Banking.

*This post was written in a paid partnership with Stifel Bank*