Fearless Tech

Delali Dzirasa

“My parents split up when I was about four or five years old. I’m the youngest of three boys and we all lived with my mom. When we wanted the popular new shoes, she was big on encouraging us to work to earn our own money for them.

My mother instilled an enthusiastic work ethic in us. We did everything to earn money: we walked dogs, cut grass, washed cars, raked leaves, and shoveled snow. We always had money if we wanted to buy something. It was exciting to know that if you wanted something you could go out and work to earn money for it.

That's where the entrepreneurial bug came from. At that stage, it was just a hustle.

Fast forward, I went to undergrad at UMBC and studied computer engineering. I knew three things early on: I wanted to do something that involved business, technology, and people. I didn’t have a business background, but during that time, UMBC started an entrepreneurship program. It was non-accredited, but the courses were free and on your own time, so I participated in it.

I tried a bunch of things out in undergrad. I had a lot of startups, some with partners and some without. I spent time building software and tech for nonprofits and churches and built a business supporting mission-based entities for a while.

I think there are two moments in which I knew that Fearless was a thing.  My mother raised me in the church, and I was volunteering there helping the young adult ministry to get off the ground, and it grew to hundreds of people. I was working nights and weekends, and it became a lot, so I ended up stepping down, but then the youth ministry fell apart.

They asked me to come back, but I wanted to work in the business space. A few years later, I decided to come back, so I wrote and submitted a proposal that the team and board loved, but we couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the budget.

I didn't know it then, but in hindsight, I think Fearless was born that day. I never wanted anybody that wanted to do good, to not be able to do it because of money.

After I graduated, I started working for a small defense company. I went in on day one and told the CEO I wanted to start a company. I had a list of things I wanted, and I already had the offer, so I had nothing to lose. He agreed and kept his end of the bargain by teaching me the ropes and making sure I had opportunities to grow there. Before I left, I was managing a $100 million dollar job and I understood all the pieces of running a business.

After that, I started Fearless Tech, where all of those things I wanted: business, technology, and people, had come full circle for me.

When we moved our office to Baltimore, we planned to stay for 1-2 years. We came and rented a place for a year, and then renewed our lease a few times before we bought it because it was clear that this was the place we were going to do our work in.

What I love about Baltimore is, it's a space where, if you want to make an impact, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do it. As long as you're authentic, people will embrace you and support you. I felt that from day one.

Baltimore has tremendous assets, we're in the middle of Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Grounds and have world-class education, financial and healthcare institutions.

The conditions that exist within Baltimore are not here by accident. People got together in a boardroom and drew up the plans on a whiteboard to build the Baltimore we see today. From redlining, to policies, to funding, all of these things were scripted.

There was such a sense of intentionality in how we got here, so we've got to be just as intentional about creating some of these fixes for Baltimore.

The folks that are impacted by the policies and initiatives being implemented in Baltimore need to be in the room. They have a voice and should expect people to hear their voice. The richness of all of those voices are what makes this place so special. These things are such a big part of the puzzle to build empathy and relationships so that we can overcome these challenges together.

My hopes for the economy in Baltimore, is that it is equitable first. Baltimore is 60% Black, and Baltimore cannot win if Black people don’t win. Maryland can't win, if Baltimore doesn't win so there is a sense of responsibility that we have to take to make sure everyone is at the table.

A lot of what we do to help the community is through partners. We are really good at building software, but it doesn't mean we're the best trainer for students and staff. So, we provide fuel to organizations like Dent Education, Code in the Schools and Rowdy Orb.it, and help them to make a much broader impact.

We are actively working to establish internship programs at HBCUs specifically, to help them grow and to build a pipeline for talent. We run Baltimore City's Tech Slack channel, which is a way for everyone to get connected. We were called on by Baltimore City Schools to curate the technology showcase for back to school night at the Science Center. As we start to open things back up, we’re excited about getting students in our space to see us in our element and help them to envision themselves here.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would’ve told him to be yourself. It's so easy to go to work and have a mask on, and I think that is a misstep.

Everyone brings such richness from their backgrounds, perspectives, personalities, and everything they have. At Fearless, we don't want anyone to hide any of that. We want them to bring more of that to the table because we build tech for people. If everyone's hiding, we're not getting the best experience possible within the organization and for other people.

Getting to a place of awesome authenticity within an organization is big. It’s hard, but the more you do it, the more you get comfortable, and your tribe starts to find you.

There were two other challenges that I had to overcome. It was very common in the tech space for me to be the only black person in the room. The second piece is that my background wasn’t military. So, I’d be in rooms with people who went to West Point or connected due to their prior service, and I felt really, really out of place in a lot of those early conversations.

What helped me overcome those challenges was a conversation I had with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC. He said, “You're coming at this from a place of weakness and you need to come at this from a place of strength.” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “When you leave, you’d better make sure everyone remembers the black guy with the purple tie.”

That was a pivotal moment for me because it changed my perspective. It made me look at these challenges as opportunities, so I started talking to everybody. If people were looking for greatness, it would be easier to remember me.

My definition of fearless is not that you’re doing things without fear, but that something can be scary, it can be daunting, it can be something that you haven't done before, but you move forward anyway.

Even through the unknown, because there's some outcome or some world you're trying to create on the other end of it. I’m not going to be afraid to do something different, challenge the status quo, speak up, or help somebody else out or to do something, even if it isn't profitable."

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