Bilal Issifou was on track to becoming a lawyer when he decided to switch paths and dive into entrepreneurship. While obtaining his degree as a pre law student at North Carolina AT&T his desires changed. “Once I got to my junior year, I had the opportunity to intern in a lot of different places and it changed my perspective on what I wanted to do and it prompted me to pursue entrepreneurship,” Issifou explained.
One internship that influenced his career change was during the summer of his junior year. Issifou interned at Goldman and Sachs and worked alongside one of the top legal teams in the country. However, during the internship his perspective shifted, “nothing was complicated, nothing was hard, I felt like I could do everything in that company. So, it just kind of pushed me forward a little more, because I realized I didn’t want to go to law school anymore. But I also realized that, I knew I could work, but I didn’t want to work for anyone,” Issifou said.
Issifou said the rest was history and once he realized his passion was not in law he began to create his own company. However, he didn’t let his experience at the internship go to waste. He used his resources to pitch his business idea to whomever would listen and by the end of the summer it was solid.
“I had got feedback from everybody that I could meet with during my internship duration. Once I got to the end of the internship, the hiring manager said, well, you’re young and this seems like a pretty good idea. Why don’t you try this out,” Issifou said.
Issifou took that extra push as a sign that he was on the right path. After he received the motivation and support from others he quickly realized that his idea was worth a try.
As an undergraduate student Issifou and Nasir Jones launched their company in June 2020. They created UnchainedInc (https://unchainedinc.com/), a tech startup company that provides a platform to assist HBCU students to obtain career and mentorship opportunities.
“Starting out I was as detailed as possible and I thought as big as possible. So the start up is completely at the full scale that I imagined it to be in the beginning,” Issifou said.
The vision for UnchainedInc was strong from the beginning. Issifou knew that he wanted to create a platform that could “literally bridge the gap between corporate America and diverse candidates and still have that social interface,” Issifou said.
“So I wanted to make sure that although I wanted to have very advanced tech that could compete with any other platform out there. I wanted to keep in mind that what was going to separate us was the fact that we were going to have the knowledge on how to actually engage this demographic and study that, regardless of the tech,” Issifou added.
UnchainedInc directly targets HBCU students and alumni but any diverse candidate can create a profile. Currently the app has over 35 different HBCUs represented.
“On our platform, we can distinguish who’s the HBCU student and who’s not by the different school badges and also who’s a student and who’s not by the email associated with the school badges,” Issifou explained.
However, the difficult part was getting companies involved to provide opportunities for HBCU and diverse students. “In the beginning you have to prove yourself. I was doing a lot of cold calls, a lot of emails, you know, a lot of turn downs. But after we did the proof of concept, and pretty much showed what we could actually do. After that, we started getting clients left and right,” Issifou said.
The UnchainedInc app is providing a place that helps diverse students reach new heights. According to the company, most students get a first round interview or second round interview. But the process doesn’t stop after they provide resources for the students. Issifou described, “it’s almost like we’re building out a pipeline for them, essentially. And so we work very closely with them throughout the whole process to make sure that the company gets the right candidate. And from there, we also ensure that the candidate that we’re sending over there also knows what they’re getting into and is prepared.”
In addition, “we have professional development partners, for the resume critiquing, and also interview prep. So that’s how we kind of serve as both ends.”
While UnchainedInc works to link minorities to opportunities, funding has not always been easily accessible or achievable. “We are a completely bootstrapped company. We’ve been pretty much figuring it out,” Issifou explained.
“In the beginning, it was just $1 and a dream. It’s like, I know, I have a good idea. I know it could be the next big idea but the capital was not there. But what I learned through the process is even if the capital is not there, social capital can help you all too, because while we lacked the money — we had in data, we had a marketing numbers, we had an actual brand presence influence, and that ended up helping us still get the end results,” Issifou said.
As an HBCU graduate Issifou took his dollar and a dream and created a company that could give back. “I’m gonna use technology to bridge the gap, and become that bridge for people in my background and other backgrounds to do what I did easily, because they probably just don’t know that they can do it, because they haven’t been in the environment,” Issifou said.