Growing up in Silver Spring, Delali Dzirasa used to knock on doors and offer to cut grass, mow lawns, wash cars or walk dogs for pay. A lot of people said no, but a couple said yes.
The thrill of landing those few jobs as a youngster gave Dzirasa a taste of the entrepreneurial life, and he was hooked.
"I knew I wanted to start something," said Dzirasa, founder and president of Fearless Solutions, a fast-growing Baltimore-based software firm. "I had no clue what it was."
After graduating from UMBC in 2004 with a degree in computer engineering, Dzirasa had one special request when he accepted his first job after college.
He would take the software programming job at Raba Technologies, he told his new employer, but he wanted to learn the business side. Being assertive paid off. When the company won two $100 million defense contracts the next year, and a program manager needed extra help, the firm turned to Dzirasa.
The experience of advancing to a leadership role on a massive contract, with a good mentor to teach him on the job, led him to build a similar culture at his own firm, which he founded in 2009.
"I wanted to make sure we had a culture that valued excellence over years," Dzirasa said.
He also wanted the firm to stand out. He chose as the company mascot a purple cow, a nod to Seth Godin's "Purple Cow," a widely read book about success in business. Each new employee is given a copy.
"In a world of brown cows, a purple cow stands out and causes people to take notice," the Fearless website says. "There are plenty of brown cow web shops around."
Dzirisa said his company stands out by building cool software with a social or civic impact.
"It's got to help somebody," he said.
The firm, with offices in the Spark Baltimore co-working space downtown, won its first contract in spring of 2010 and has grown quickly. It employs 32 people and expects to grow to about 50 this year.
Under a contract with the New York Harbor Foundation, which is working with partners to restore the harbor's oysters, the firm created a software platform that stores and analyzes data that middle school students collect in hands-on environmental science projects.
"We're helping kids learn STEM and save the environment," Dzirasa said.
The firm also has a contract to manage technologies for the Small Business Administration's HUBZone program, which targets small businesses located in historically underutilized areas to improve their access to federal contracting opportunities. It also manages the digital face of the SBA, helping to link small businesses to counselors and lending and other services.
Fearless also is working with the Baltimore City Health Department on a technology health initiative. It is building a prototype of a citywide health dashboard and warning system that will analyze data in order to prevent or manage public health crises.
"We want to do good work and make good money, but we want it to matter," Dzirasa said. "We're very focused on how do we solve problems."
Name: Delali Dzirasa
Previous Job: Software Engineer/Program Manager
Education: B.S. in Computer Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Family: Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, wife. Sons Dominic, 15, and Jaden, 10 weeks.
Hobbies/Interests: Getting students involved in STEM, building programs, binge watching Netflix, spending time with family