A Baltimore start-up company is offering a solution to the problem that every person with a smartphone has faced: how to avoid paying cell phone companies an arm and a leg to fix a crack in your screen.
Fixt was founded by Luke Cooper in 2013 to provide “on-demand mobile device and repair replacement” in just a few hours. Cooper’s motivations for starting Fixt are deeply personal, and his dedication to its success was fueled by his young daughter’s cancer diagnosis in 2014.
Cooper was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., and said that to call it an “underprivileged environment” is “putting it lightly.” Though he acquired a great deal of experience in other business ventures, Fixt is a relatively new endeavor for him—and one he embarked on alone, after an initial group of co-founders backed out.
“Ultimately, it was the best thing possible,” Cooper said. “We could not be where we are today if I had not shed some of those people. That’s part of life lessons. You gotta learn as an entrepreneur, as an early adult or young professional, whoever you are, to shed people quickly who are not meant to be part of your future.”
The launch of Fixt was an enormous project that overlapped with a family crisis.
“The year that we were shedding founders, my daughter, she was four then, got stage-four cancer,” Cooper recalls. “She’s all better now, but that was certainly difficult. I made a conscious decision at that point that the best thing I could do for my daughter was to be as successful as I possibly could.”
During the 10 months that his daughter successfully battled cancer, Cooper traveled between Boulder, Co., where Fixt was acquiring resources, and his family in Baltimore. The resiliency he found during that time has fueled his company’s upward progression.
Cooper had the opportunity to attend a Jesuit prep school before attending Adelphi University on a basketball scholarship and earning a law degree from Syracuse University and an MBA from Babson College. The diverse experience helped him build perspective as he became an entrepreneur.
“There are lots of obstacles I certainly faced as an African-American entrepreneur,” he said. “Many of them deal with perception. You can’t allow that to stop you. You hear ‘no’ quite a bit. Sometimes you just don’t know whether you’re hearing ‘no,’ not necessarily because people are discriminatory or they don’t like you because you’re Black … but because they’ve formed an opinion of you and are not willing to be patient enough to understand the context (around) which you are building a company…because they just don’t see themselves in you.”
Cooper’s employees include White, Latinx and LGBTQ individuals, but few brown faces. He is open about the lack of diversity in his company, but said he has had a hard time attracting Black workers, engineers, and intellectuals in Baltimore due to racial and economic disparities.
“I’m proud of the group that we have here,” Cooper said. “I’m the only African American in the company, that’s a true statement, however, you can’t control outcomes. Our job is to make sure that we invite as many candidates into the [application] process as possible.”
Cooper hopes to create opportunities at his company for Black job-seekers by posting openings at HBCUs such as Morgan State and Coppin State, and spending some of his own time visiting and speaking with Black student groups at other universities, including Towson University’s Black Student Union. He also worked with Coppin State to help launch a new entrepreneurial accelerator program.
The experience of helming a start-up company has granted Cooper a depth of perspective, and he advises other new companies to be ready to adjust.
“I’ve learned that you just can’t control the bad things that are going to happen,” he said. “When you go into start-up life, and you’re starting the very early stages of building something, understand that a world of possible outcomes is unknowable. There is no such thing as a straight line to success. Be flexible, be adaptive, and be compassionate.”
Cooper said he hopes Fixt’s growth, and his own path through the world of business, can serve as an example to other entrepreneurs looking for a model for their own success.
“My job is to find a way to broadcast as loud as I can my story,” he said, “and what I’ve been through and how it’s led me to my success as a way to encourage others to do the same thing. The next big story is in West Baltimore, East Baltimore, tucked away.”