Serial entrepreneur Jibril Sulaiman made history with the launch of Incluzion, the first-ever online platform connecting companies to Black and Latinx talent for freelance work.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, his startup has gone one step further and expanded its services with brand new offerings. Incluzion Learning gives users access to online courses and Incluzion’s Remote Jobs Board offers professionals additional access to telework opportunities, which are crucial during times where people are safest working from home.
The idea is to provide diverse talent with access to resources so they can thrive professionally and personally. “The goal is to support the development of a more balanced skillset while pursuing new roles,” said Sulaiman, founder and CEO of Incluzion.
With Incluzion Learning, users complete courses at their own pace, which includes everything from technical training, financial literacy, business development, and emotional intelligence.
So now Incluzion is a one-stop-shop for users not only to find work, but also to upskill or expand their capabilities. It’s an exciting opportunity for his venture to help diverse professionals develop strong soft skills to thrive in the quickly evolving remote workforce, said Sulaiman.
“My intention isn’t to teach a developer how to be a better developer,” said Sulaiman. “We’re going to teach you how to handle anxiety and isolation, create boundaries in your new work/life balance, develop additional side hustles, or to teach you how to be more financially savvy.”
“We’ve been preaching the gospel of remote work for a couple of years now. And people are [sic] now really seeing taking remote work, distributed teams and freelancing seriously. Especially from a diverse talent standpoint.”
This strategic focus on soft skills, Sulaiman says, is what differentiates Incluzion Learning from other learning platforms. It helps freelancers, consultants, and work-from-home professionals to upskill across a range of competencies on the platform to ultimately perform better on the job.
However, Sulaiman did not want to limit the content on the learning platform to classes solely created by his team. Instead, ahead of the launch, he reached out to Incluzion’s professional community to identify instructors to co-develop courses and earn revenue through the platform as well.
After only a week and a half, 85 instructors have already signed up to teach a course.
The team has been putting in the extra hours to make their brand a mutually beneficial community for talent and companies. Alongside the launch of Incluzion Learning, they have kicked off a Remote Jobs Board for companies to post contract jobs and remote full-time listings. In the base package, firms pay a modest price to post their job on the Incluzion’s jobs board, weekly e-newsletter, highly engaged Slack group, and social media platforms with 15K combined followers.
The new initiative is a perfect add-on to Incluzion’s launch offerings, a freely accessible online talent solution platform that connects businesses to a pool of diverse talent for remote and flexible work. Incluzion connects its growing community of nearly 5,000 mostly Black and Latinx professionals to anyone interested in hiring diverse talent.
Both newly launched initiatives capitalize on the surge in remote, part-time, freelance, and work-from-home employment amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, this trend will likely continue for some time. According to data from Freelancer’s “Fast 50” report, freelance job postings rose 41% to 605,000 in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. And according to current predictions, freelancers will make up 50.9% of the U.S. workforce come 2027.
“We’ve been preaching the gospel of remote work for a couple of years now,” Sulaiman said. “And people are [sic] now really seeing taking remote work, distributed teams and freelancing seriously. Especially from a diverse talent standpoint.”
Still, Sulaiman admits having more capital at the start of this latest venture would have helped Incluzion grow at a faster pace. Despite being a successful two-time entrepreneur and Inc. 5000 recognized CEO with 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, he has still struggled to access traditional capital.
“ You know, many investors are writing the larger checks nowadays, but even those who write smaller amounts of $10,000 or $25,000, they don’t believe in me right now,” he said. “And that’s fine […] I’m perfectly fine with proving people wrong.”
However, he acknowledges that despite not receiving traditional outside investment, bootstrapping and Reg CF investment crowdfunding has allowed him to build a solid team to facilitate growth.
“The three things I believe in are team, time, and traction,” Suilaman said. “Assemble the right core team, gain a small amount of tangible traction and the right time, we’ll be able to shine as a startup. All 3 of these components are in place at the right time during a global pandemic.”
Sulaiman remains thankful for the 150 investors who believe in his venture and collectively invested nearly $70,500 in a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year.
One issue that’s at the top of Sulaiman’s mind is artificial intelligence (AI) in the recruitment process. His biggest concern is the potential for bias or a skewed set of candidates. He wants to ensure the datasets of underserved communities aren’t left behind as talent acquisition looks to AI technology to weed out applicants.
“As AI becomes more prevalent on these hiring marketplaces, they are going to discriminate against Black and Brown people,” he said. “They are going to discriminate against people with atypical resumes. So it’s more incumbent than ever to have a place and ecosystem that facilitates and can make those connections, that has its own dataset and AI that can be built upon.”
The shift toward using AI in recruitment is already occurring although costs have been the biggest barrier to widespread use. Still, the technology is at risk if it operates from a biased data set, as Amazon Inc. illustrated when its AI had a built-in bias toward men’s resumes.
Sulaiman has an innate passion to provide economic empowerment for marginalized communities. He was inspired to launch Incluzion from personal experiences as a serial entrepreneur.
He propelled his first tech company, Paysell, to #484 on the Inc. 5000 list in 2016. During this time, Sulaiman had the opportunity to hire and grow using freelance and contract talent from Elance but found it difficult to find Black freelancers on the platform. After exiting the company, he became a freelancer himself and personally experienced how difficult it was to get noticed as a “Black person with skills” on the current platforms.
Today Sulaiman has diversified Incluzion with a remote jobs board, freelance marketplace, and learning platform. He is clearly on a mission to make an impact and support diverse talent communities as they navigate remote, freelance, or work-from-home employment.