Meet the Black Business Owner Changing the Game for Other Minority Entrepreneurs Entering the Small Business Market

by Xara Aziz
Instagram @kellyifill

A Brooklyn native who started her own company to help other Black business owners (who are much less likely to be approved for commercial checking accounts and bank loans) is charting a new path of Black women who are stepping up to the plate to help.

Kelly Ifill says her journey in finding Guava, an online banking platform aimed specifically at Black small-business owners, came as a surprise to even herself after deciding she did not want to follow in her family’s footsteps, which consisted of small business owners.

“I had no interest in being an entrepreneur,” Ifill told CNBC Make It in an interview. “I was like, ‘I don’t want that. It looks hard!'”

But after noticing many Black business owners struggle to keep their businesses alive, she took a leap of faith and started Guava.

The results have been nothing short of spectacular. In just seven months, more than 3,000 members have joined the platform. These members, the company notes, represent “a diverse range of businesses, from candle companies to spin studios.”

The 37-year-old business guru says her success came from her having a clear understanding of the trials and setbacks Black business owners face.

“I have grown up understanding what that experience is,” Ifill said. “Especially for Black people [and] especially for immigrants in this country.”

2020 was a challenging year for business owners for a multitude of reasons, but studies show Black-owner startups increased, specifically after the murder of George Floyd, according to CNBC. But while startups jumped, venture funding for those businesses plummeted 45%, according to Crunchbase.

“I wasn’t particularly surprised,” Ifill said, adding: “Without that kind of social pressure in 2022, we saw this contraction happen almost immediately, which I think has been a pattern that we can probably track back to multiple [past] bear markets.”

To be clear, Guava is not a traditional bank, Ifill explained. It’s a fintech startup that offers banking services through New York’s Piermont Bank, a fully-accredited Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation member.

The work the company does includes allowing business owners to open checking accounts “for free in minutes,” according to its website.

“All accounts are tied to government IDs to mitigate fraud attempts, and deposited funds up to $250,000 are insured by the FDIC,” reads the report.

Most recently, Guava also started a networking hub called Huddle, which gives members access to connect and learn from finance experts.

“Your network [is] the most valuable resource that you have as an entrepreneur, [and] a lack of that for Black entrepreneurs is really major, and something that we need to rectify,” Ifill concluded.

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