Growing up in West Philadelphia, John Foster, chief operating officer of Fearless, a Baltimore-based software company, witnessed his dad, Thomas, work three jobs to provide for his family.
And while John Foster’s mother, Luna, also worked, he said his parents sometimes went to bed hungry to make sure that he and his sisters, Dominique and Monique, had something to eat.
Foster, who is Black, said his upbringing has shaped how he views the world, and he wants to help others in need.
He joined Fearless 10 years ago and served as programs manager and senior software engineer before taking the COO role in 2019. A 2003 graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s computer engineering program, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Loyola University of Maryland in 2013.
Fearless partners with Baltimore companies that are working with marginalized communities and provides mentorship to students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The company also provides access to computers to Baltimore City school children during the pandemic.
Last year, Fearless donated $144,000 to area organizations that are working for racial justice. Donations included a $50,000 matching grant — that raised $100,000 in donations — for 12 nonprofits.
Foster, 39, said part of his goal is to address the under representation of minorities in STEM fields.
“Black [people] made up 11% of the U.S. workforce overall, but represent 9% of STEM workers, while Hispanics comprise 16% of the U.S. workforce, but only 7% of all STEM workforce,” according to the Pew Research Center.
Foster said he likes to help people in general, including those who don’t have access to technology, who would also benefit from government assistance.
“How many people are in pain and who need things from the government, and we are not helping them, and making them whole?” Foster said. “Government should be a tool of good. It should be a place where no one is left behind, and time and time again, we just continue to do that. Let’s stop [doing] that.”
Rajan Patel is CEO and co-founder of Dent Education, a nonprofit that helps Baltimore City high school children learn to become entrepreneurs. He said in addition to financial support, Foster and Fearless provide a great deal of mentorship and support.
Touring the Fearless office “is such a powerful example of where [children] can see what’s happening in their city and see people who look like them,” Patel said. It helps them believe that they can be entrepreneurs and change-makers, he added.
Patel said his students made $50,000 from a project that made face shields for use during the pandemic. Fearless helped them create the shields.
The company also paid for a field trip to New Orleans so students could expand their horizons and learn from entrepreneurs there, he said.
Patel said steering people into STEM will help the industry in two ways. First, as society solves the digital divide, there will be more representation, and with more representation, minorities in leadership roles can advocate for neighborhoods lacking access to technology, he said.
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Damion Cooper also has worked with Fearless as it helped Project Pneuma, a nonprofit that provides academic support for children grades fourth through eighth and promotes positive relationships with law enforcement.
Cooper, founder and executive director of Project Pneuma, said Fearless has donated $25,000 to the project in the past two years.
Foster, a father of two, a son and a daughter, said he encourages young Black men to pursue their passion, not dollars.
“The money will come. Don’t get worried. Don’t chase the dollars. Chase the passion — the things that make you fulfilled in life,” Foster said.