Interview with Kelechi Odocha, VC Fellow (W21)

September 8, 2023
Wossen Ayele

We caught up with one of our VC Fellow alums, Kelechi Odocha from the Winter 2021 cohort. He is currently in his second year of the MBA program at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Q: Great to reconnect with you, Kelechi. Can you share a bit about yourself?

My name is Kelechi and I grew up in Columbia, Maryland. I grew up playing football and got a scholarship to play at the United States Military Academy at Westpoint. I served in the US Army for eight years. As an infantry officer I was deployed to Korea to support South Korean forces. It was a great opportunity to be able to lead soldiers but I’ve always had a passion for business.

Q: Can you share a bit more about your experience in the military? And also what the transition into the business world was like?

Being in the military was an amazing experience. It definitely taught me a lot of leadership skills. I learned how to get a hundred people to align and go in the right direction, how to coach and mentor subordinates and how to create a winning organization. Working on these skills day-to-day gave me foundational leadership skills.

I decided to apply to Wharton because they have an amazing veteran community. Then when I got here, I started diving into the business world. It was definitely a big transition. It’s a big jump to go from leading soldiers to reading 10-Ks. I was thrown in the deep end, learning about investing and accounting and learning about things like leverage and LBOs. The nitty gritty of businesses was the toughest part but the leadership classes and the management training teams, that came fairly naturally.

Q: So Wharton was your introduction to the business world. How did you become interested in entrepreneurship and venture capital specifically?

After my first semester, I realized that I really liked entrepreneurship and venture capital and that’s where the passion took off. I took the course ‘Entrepreneurship through Acquisition’ taught by Robert Chalfin because everyone I knew kept raving about how great it was. It was phenomenal. He walked us through so many scenarios. How do you buy a business? How do you evaluate a business? How much do you pay for business? How do you conduct diligence? And he walks you through how to buy, develop and grow your business.

That was the first time I really learned about entrepreneurship or buying, a business that already existed. That was my introduction to venture capital. I really didn’t have any exposure to it prior. Nobody in my family, and certainly in the military, was involved in the industry. That’s where I learned about venture capital and how you could invest in startups, help founders, build businesses and create wealth. And I began thinking about how this could be a tool for closing the wealth gap in America. And when I learned about Pariti’s VC Fellowship, I thought it was a perfect fit for me.

Q: The Fellowship is designed to help MBA students and early- to mid-career professionals break into VC. What was your experience in the Fellowship? Did you have any expectations going into it?

When I joined I was really inexperienced and so I didn’t really have any real expectations – it was my first time in this space. After joining and getting a chance to review companies and work with founders, I realized: there's a lot of talent in Africa and tons of entrepreneurs with some amazing ideas. I was really impressed to see how people are solving massive problems through entrepreneurship in Africa.

I got a lot out of just speaking to the founders, trying to understand what they were building and what problems they were looking to solve and finding ways of creating value. It was really satisfying.

Q: Were there any companies that really stood out to you during your fellowship experience?

There were tons of amazing companies. One particular company that stood out was a telehealth company in Nigeria. As you know I'm Nigerian and my father is a doctor so I was really interested in what they were doing. It was really inspiring learning about their innovative model designed to expand access to care on the continent. I had the chance to help them work through the customer acquisition challenges and I really hope they make it.

Q: I saw that you were able to land a summer gig at Atento Capital, a VC firm based in Tulsa. Congratulations again on landing the opportunity. How did you come across that opportunity and what was it like working there?

Atento Capital is an investment firm based in Tulsa, Oklahoma started by George Kaiser that’s focused on investing in pre-seed and seed stage startups (with a focus on B2B and SaaS companies) and creating quality jobs. 

I applied and was able to get an interview. During the interview I shared my experience at Pariti and the different types of companies that I evaluated and supported. That definitely gave me a leg up and I think helped seal the deal.

Thankfully I got an offer and moved down to Tulsa for the summer. It was awesome. The city itself was really surprising; it's really vibrant and interesting. And work wise, I loved it. The best part was going down to the portfolio companies and helping them out, supporting them with structuring and preparing for their next round. The VC Fellowship definitely helped prepare me to find ways to create value working directly with the founders.

Q: Any advice for someone reading this that is looking to break into the VC industry?

The biggest thing for me is really hustling and networking. Searching LinkedIn, cold emails, coffee chats and all of that. That was the biggest thing for me. As you probably know, in the military, you wouldn't just email someone who you don't really know. It's not normal to email someone who’s not in your chain of command. But in this world, it's all about networking. But that doesn’t work all the time and you have to go and do the dirty work of sourcing deals and following up calls.

And I’d definitely recommend the Pariti VC Fellowship. It was critical for someone like me, coming from the military with a non-traditional background. I didn't have any investment banking or consulting experience coming in and so the fellowship definitely helped give me a strong foundation and helped me get my foot in the door.