Funding is fun for venture capitalist John W. Otterson

John Otterson joined SVB Capital, the venture capital investing arm of Silicon Valley Bank, in 2001 and has more than 20 years of venture industry experience. He is responsible for venture fund investments, as well as global limited partner relations. He previously spent 11 years with Silicon Valley Bank’s Technology Practice, where he founded and led SVB’s San Diego Office, supporting local success stories such as AMCC, Cymer and HNC Software.

He currently sits on the Dean’s Advisory Board for the Rady School of Management at UCSD, the Preuss School Founder’s Circle, as well as the Moores Cancer Center Advisory Board.

Otterson co-founded the UCSD Moores Cancer Center’s Luau & Longboard Invitational in 1994 and remains on the Board of Advisors. This annual event has raised more than $5 million in support of MCC early stage projects. He has also played a key role in launching the Moores Cancer Center’s Spring Sprint Triathlon fundraiser in 2011. His eleemosynary activities have also included the La Jolla Playhouse, Project Concern International, and Best Buddies.

What brought you to La Jolla?

The first time, in 1970, I was a second grader and the move was mandated by my parents when my father took on a CEO assignment for a local data storage company, Cipher Data Products. The second time, in 1990, was my choice — a choice driven by the region’s growing entrepreneurial community, solid academic research institutions, and La Jolla’s unique environment.

What makes this area special to you?

The venue and people! La Jolla is blessed with wonderful weather and an exceptional marine environment. That combination has attracted many interesting people from across the globe, creating fascinating clusters in the marine sciences, life sciences, academia, entrepreneurial sector, and of course the surfing community!

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

My biggest pet peeve is when visitors to local beaches leave unsightly traces of their visit, whether trash, graffiti, or human waste. If everyone made an effort to cover his or her own tracks, our greatest local natural resource will be preserved for future generations.

Who or what inspires you?

My parents have been a profound inspiration in my life. My father instilled a love of entrepreneurship and innovation that has led to my 20-year career with Silicon Valley Bank supporting the innovation sector worldwide. My mother provided an exceptional example of the importance of eleemosynary engagement, inspiring my co-founding of the UCSD Moores Cancer Center Luau & Longboard Invitational nearly 20 years ago. Together, my parents demonstrated the durable importance of family and friends, and transitory nature of wealth and possessions.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Before we get to the guest list, I’d want to secure Tapenade and Giuseppe to tag team on catering. That would be complimented by Shari and Garen Staglin covering the wine list!

As far as a guest list goes, I think

William Shackleton

would add incredible perspective on leadership and motivation gained through his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica where his ship was sunk and yet not a single crewmember was lost.

Tenzing Norgay

, who led Sir Edmund Hilary up the first ascent of Everest, would also provide compelling perspective on leadership and mountaineering.

To cover insights on entrepreneurship and innovation, I’d invite

Craig Venter


Tom Perkins

. Both are pioneers and big thinkers in the innovation economy. I think

Milton Friedman

would be good to round out the business discussion.

I would also include

Malin Burnham

  1. Not only to share his stories from the disastrous FastNet race and perspective on community leadership, but also to share his Seven Principals for instilling leadership in our youth.



would also add unique perspective on leadership as well as provide inspiration to focus our leadership capabilities in helping others.

I think

Chrissie Wellington

would add an amazing smile and an incredible perspective on goal orientation that enabled her to shatter a world record that stood for 17 years at Kona’s 140.6-mile IronMan triathlon in 2009. And

Angelina Jolie,

just in case anyone was taking this discussion too seriously…

Did I get the count wrong? Sorry, that is an incorrigible genetic disposition.

What are your favorite books of all time?

“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I read this before my first trip to the Andes and it was magical; “Let the Sea Make a Noise,” by Walter McDougal – McDougal was my history prof at Cal, this is an amazing history of the Pacific Rim written in fictional style; “Guns Germs and Steel,” by Jared Diamond – this is a great summary of the history of mankind! “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” by Clayton Christensen – great lesson on the importance of innovation and challenges presented by same.

Fun recent reads include “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall and “The Wave, In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean,” by Susan Casey.

What is your most-prized possession?

One marriage certificate and three birth certificates.

What do you do for fun?

While I love to do anything aquatic with the family (including beaching, surfing, or sailing) my adrenaline addiction can only be satiated by kitesurfing, and that endeavor tends to exclude family (given my children’s current ages). I am fortunate that my work takes me to some of the windiest spots on Earth!

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

While I have been fortunate to have enjoyed a series of epic adventures with family, friends, and colleagues that range from building a successful business franchise supporting world class innovative companies at Silicon Valley Bank, co-founding UCSD Moores Cancer Center’s Luau & Longboard Invitational (which has become a world renowned event), crossing oceans, and scaling high altitude peaks, I think my most important opus is a work in progress — instilling positive core values and a passion for success in Bella, William, and Weston. This represents the most important project in my life. And my wife Gabriele is my most trusted partner in this work in process!

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Never give up.