Meet Silicon Valley Bank’s Jennifer Friel Goldstein

Jennifer Friel GoldsteinIn this piece, Jennifer, who is Head of Business Development, Technology and Healthcare for Silicon Valley Bank, shares the story of her unconventional career trajectory—and some of the lessons she learned along the way about iterating your career and investing in authentic relationships.

You never know what may lead to a career defining moment. In my case, it came after a succession of cold shoulders. Literally. As an undergrad, I spent hours in the lab as a bench scientist studying rotator cuff disease. For each session, I would have to thaw, and then refreeze, a human shoulder. As passionate as I was, and still am, about research, hanging out with frozen cadaver parts wasn’t an ideal environment for an extrovert like myself.

I share this story because my dream from age 14 was to be a scientist, and here I was at 22 with a degree in bioengineering. But as cool as that sounded, it didn’t quite fit. After bouncing around a couple of labs looking for the right type of research, I realized that as wonderful and important as lab research is, the highly individualized work and long feedback loops involved simply did not suit my personality.

Don’t be afraid to iterate on your career.

To diversify my options, I tried management consulting where I immediately took to the quick-paced, team-oriented environment of solving problems and getting rapid feedback. It was night and day from the lab. I went on to get an MBA and a master’s degree in biotech, opting not to leave science behind but to serve the field in a different capacity.

What I was fortunate to learn early in my career is that your actual work environment can be just as important as the work itself. That perspective has given me a much broader lens through which I think about career decisions, as a job is so much more than just a title or an industry.

Then, the twins were born.

Last decade, my career path veered again, though this time the choice was partly driven by family considerations. My husband and I were living in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, and then the twins arrived, sharing one crib at the foot of our bed. While I had a job I Ioved—working on Pfizer’s venture team, investing and managing portfolios—we decided it was time to head back to the Bay Area to raise our kids closer to family. This was a big decision for both of us as we had clear ambitions in our careers with great trajectories in New York.  But again, life is about more than your career. You factor in many different variables at different times, and while that can be scary, it can also open up brand new opportunities you hadn’t considered previously.

From bones to banking.

That was seven years ago, and Silicon Valley Bank was growing its life sciences business. The bank was looking for someone who could add a technical perspective when evaluating biotech opportunities. Believe me, banking had been nowhere on my radar when I was thawing out shoulders. But the opportunity to be a part of an expanding life science practice was intriguing, the people were amazing, and thankfully SVB was willing to take a chance on my non-traditional background. It was a fit! And I’ve been learning and growing here ever since.  

Stay curious.

I’ve had a delightfully-evolving role of increasing opportunity and responsibility at SVB. Taking a page from my days in the lab, I paid attention to the holistic set of job traits that allowed me to be at my best, and raised my hand to ask for new work challenges when the time was right. I’m currently responsible for business development, venture capital relationship management and corporate relationship management across all sectors for the bank, learning from experienced individuals on my teams about a broader set of business areas important to our tech ecosystem.

Along my path—from bench scientist to banker—several standout individuals have been supportive work partners and allies. The professional relationships in which I invest most are those formed from a genuine curiosity from both parties to get to know each other better.  How do you find those people? I’m a firm believer that the most effective relationships happen organically. While I understand the intent of “assigning” mentors and mentees, I have found limited success with such programs. You can, however, engineer an increased probability of collision, which helps people find those organic connections. From there, people then actively choose to invest time building a relationship, but you can’t force-fit sincerity. 

Invest in authentic relationships.

Sometimes people I don’t know at all will come up, and ask, “Will you be my mentor?” But that’s not how to build an authentic relationship. Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and ask, “Will you marry me”?!?!  That said, you do have to put yourself in places and opportunities to collide with lots of different people, and that takes effort for anyone. The more people you meet, the more likely you will find those natural opportunities to build authentic relationships. And while you may primarily want to learn about others, don’t forget that people also want to learn about you! That’s what makes it authentic. Let your unique attributes, passions, and experiences shine so that both parties are equally excited to build a new relationship.

Another thing I’ve found as you start to build your tribe of go-to people (both people more experienced and less experienced professionally than you), is that by adding individuals with very different perspectives and backgrounds, you deepen your worldview. For example, as a self-professed extrovert, having introverts I can go to makes me a more well-rounded person when struggling with a decision or situation. I rely on these relationships to tell me what my own bias could lead me to miss. So, having introverts on my roster of people is important to me. Same with anyone that adds richness I can’t replicate based on someone else’s background or life experiences.  Seek these people out, invest in them, and they will also invest in you. But one final word of advice, stay away from the cadavers; they give terrible advice!


Jennifer Friel Goldstein is Head of Business Development, Technology and Healthcare for Silicon Valley Bank. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys remaining involved with SpringBoard Enterprises, serving on the board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Silicon Valley, and spending time with her husband and their twin children.

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