Bilal Issifou is the founder of Unchained Inc, a startup that connects HBCU students and graduates to jobs and internships at Fortune 500 companies. Issifou, originally from Togo, started the tech startup out of his own experience in an internship he didn’t really like.
The 22-year-old first migrated to the U.S. when he was only five years old. He was taught about the significance of hard work and education at a tender age and those values remain with him. They guide his dealings and philosophical outlook.
Seeking to uplift Black people was one of his foremost aims. While in school studying pre-law, he launched the nonprofit, Kingdom of Youth, which he dedicated to the development of school-aged children in Greensboro, North Carolina, according to CNBC Make It.
In his agenda to uplift more Black students, he launched Unchained Inc. The professional web platform today gives students of HBCUs a platform to gain education and then get employed.
Issifou initially started Unchained Inc. on Instagram because he couldn’t get a website developer. The move was essential to create awareness about his business until the site launched.
“As a pre-law student, I knew nothing about tech and starting a website. I would talk about my business idea, but no one wanted to invest in something they couldn’t see,” he told CNBC Make It. “Unfortunately, many website developers were out of my budget, so I had to get resourceful. I started an Instagram page with business, resume, and professional development tips and built a following.”
Through Instagram, he got connected to his current Chief Technology Officer Nasir Jones, who eventually launched the Unchained Inc. website on Juneteenth 2020. Since the launch, the platform has seen significant success.
Unchained Inc. allows “users to build their own profiles, add badges and connect with different companies,” according to CNBC Make It. And since it was launched, the platform has amassed over 10,000 users, 2.2 million website clicks, 6,000 app downloads and 30 HBCUs represented, CNBC Make It said.
Today, Issifou has four other professionals on his team and a group of advisory board members, including rapper “Master P”.
Issifuo’s secret to his success is networking. While interning at the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Goldman Sachs, he studied other professionals at Goldman made it an effort to pitch his business to just about anyone who would listen.
“Anytime I connected with a managing director or another business professional on a zoom call, I would pitch Unchained and get feedback so I could refine my skills,” he said. “By the end of the summer, I had a perfect pitch to the point where my managing director told me ‘You’re young, you have ample time to work at a company. Why don’t you try this out.’ That was my sign to take a different route.”
Despite being offered an opportunity to work at Goldman Sachs, Issifuo turned down the offer and thanks to the relationships he built through networking, emails, cold call among others, he now has 20 company clients.
According to the Togolese-born entrepreneur, his goal is to develop Unchained Inc. to become a global “platform/access point for diverse candidates across the world through strategic partnerships and consistent initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
And for others who want to be like him, Issifuo’s advice to them is to “dream without limits and execute without hesitation.”