Laidlaw Scholars Ventures

Our Portfolio – Guava

Guava – Business Banking for Black America

Guava aims to create a banking and networking platform for Black small business owners and entrepreneurs and to narrow the racial wealth gap by providing financial services. Their digital banking platform offers financial services to groups underserved by large banking institutions to check expenses, budget, transfer money, track growth and connect with other entrepreneurs. Through this initiative, Guava’s mission is to facilitate the growth and resilience of like-minded Black small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Why We Invested

Laidlaw Scholars Ventures has made a $650,000 pre-seed investment into Guava, a digital banking and networking platform by and for Black entrepreneurs, to help narrow the racial wealth gap in the United States.

There are currently over 3 million Black entrepreneurs in the USA; however,  the statistics surrounding their access to funding are extremely stark and concerning. Only 3% of Small Business Association loans go to Black entrepreneurs, with these loans being, on average, half the size of loans received by their peers.

His co-founder Lauren O’ Reilly is similarly impressive and has won a raft of entrepreneurship awards in her short tenure as COO of ProMotion. Importantly, they complement each other well, share a vision for what they are trying to build and seem to be really enjoying the hard work required to get this product and company off the ground. They were an easy pair to back.

Another comparison is the proportion of entrepreneurs gaining loans in their first year of operation, with Black entrepreneurs only receiving 1/7th the number of loans compared to white entrepreneurs. Citigroup researchers estimate that this inequitable access has cost the American economy $13 trillion in business revenue. 

This is a huge problem that resonates with the Laidlaw Foundation as it seeks to provide education, opportunity and access to all. We believe that former Laidlaw Scholar Kelly Ifill is the right Founder & CEO to address this problem and that her passion, experience and drive will be vital in building this collaborative platform for Black entrepreneurs. Kelly has achieved a huge amount with her first funding round, setting up the foundations of the platform, building a group of advisors with sector expertise, and, most importantly, putting in place a highly skilled team with specialist areas of knowledge.

The product set starts with a current account and a community element that enables Guava to share insights & best practices and facilitate connection opportunities to support their customers. Using transaction data, customer engagement, and a user’s track record of business performance, Guava then offers a more comprehensive assessment of entrepreneurs’ creditworthiness, surpassing the traditional, biased methods used by banks. Kelly’s ambition is to unleash the full potential of Black entrepreneurs by levelling the playing field, and LSV is confident not only in her success but her ability to drive significant value to the wider economy through the support of this underrepresented group of business owners. 

About the Laidlaw Scholar

Kelly Ifill is the Founder & CEO of Guava. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Baruch College and a master of education degree in mathematics from St. John’s University. She began her career in education, working in schools in the US, Brazil and Dubai, before pursuing an MBA at Columbia Business School supported by the Laidlaw Foundation’s Women in Business Scholarship. She is now committed to closing the racial wealth gap and provide equitable financial products to Black small business owners through Guava, a full-service, digital-first banking institution.

Laidlaw Foundation