Delali Dzirasa says that it may sound like a cliché, but he started his software company, Fearless, in his basement. Back in 2009, he was both developing the business and serving its clients, but Fearless quickly grew. He moved the company first to a cubicle in a business incubator of his alma mater, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, then to the Spark Baltimore co-working space in Downtown Baltimore, where many of his 130 team members now occupy four floors.
Fearless offers complex, but user-friendly solutions that Dzirasa talks about in simple terms: “Our vision is really to create a world where good software powers things that matter,” he said.
The organization found its roots in government contracts with the Department of Defense, but expanded to other spheres, including education, health care, defense, and social justice, offering innovative solutions in each domain.
The company’s development from Dzirasa’s basement into a $40 million full-stack digital services firm has been driven by an ethics structure that directs how Fearless selects clients and projects. The deliberate result is what the company calls “software with a soul.”
A Baltimore story that’s changing the narrative
Dzirasa graduated from UMBC with a degree in computer engineering. A TECHCONNECT grant from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is what enabled the company’s move to the downtown area. The support he received along the way was invaluable.
“Baltimore is very much part of our story,” Dzirasa said. “Fearless wouldn’t be Fearless had we not been located here.”
But Dzirasa is also shifting the local ecosystem, with a focus on lifting up Black talent.
- In addition to mentoring Baltimore youth in STEM, Dzirasa launched Fearless’ Community Partner program in 2018 to offer grants and other support to Baltimore City and Montgomery County nonprofits working with young people, with preference for those supporting historically underserved or underrepresented groups.
- In 2019, the company opened Hutch, a 24-month program for young civic tech businesses in Baltimore and beyond, with a focus on minority-owned digital service firms.
- Dzirasa founded HACK Baltimore in 2020 to connect technologists with community advocates, nonprofits, and local residents to design and develop solutions addressing a range of challenges facing Baltimore City.
- And in 2021, in partnership with the Downtown Partnership, Fearless launched Downtown BOOST, or Black-Owned and -Occupied Storefront Tenancy, to identify, attract, and nurture Black businesses looking to move into a brick-and-mortar location or expand their footprint. By supporting the move of these businesses into vacant Downtown storefronts, the initiative aims to increase the companies’ profiles, while bolstering the Downtown area.
These efforts are not only about bolstering Baltimore. They also reflect Dzirasa’s belief that vast segments of the population have been overlooked for far too long.
“We’re competing against other countries. They’re trying to tap their entire population, and if in this country what we’re trying to tap is just a segment, we’re going to lose,” he said.
“We have got to understand that there’s brain power, innovation, and great ideas in every part of our city and every part of our country. Until the paradigm shifts to recognize that we’re missing an opportunity, we won’t make any strides.”