Finding lifelong community
Chisom Uche ’14
Chisom had two internships during college that made him want to apply to VFA: one at a big corporation, and one at a startup. He could see the appeal of the corporate route—if he went that way, he knew he’d land an impressive-sounding job with a high salary—but the startup world called his name. “When I interned at a startup I had the power to be an influencer at the company, and to have my viewpoints actually heard and implemented,” he said. After school, he knew he wanted to have an impact at a company where he couldn’t be easily replaced—and he wanted to meet other people who cared about their daily impact. VFA was that perfect intersection.
Learning by doing at TopOpps
After joining VFA, Chisom got a job at TopOpps, a small, scrappy startup that makes sales analytics software. He’s one half of the marketing team, so he’s worked on a huge range of projects—from branding and social media to a total overhaul of the website. He’s planned events, produced a marketing video that made a major impact on sales, and covered for the marketing director during her maternity leave. It hasn’t always been easy—he’s picked skills up on the fly, without much guidance, and things haven’t always gone as expected on the first try. “Coming from a background where you’ve always been a high achiever, failing can be really hard,” he said. “Being okay with being wrong is something you have to learn. But it will make you a better employee, a better person to work with, and a batter manager one day.”
I've learned to manage myself, and that I can do whatever needs to get done if I just put my mind to it and organize myself. That's pretty valuable.
Deeper into St. Louis
Chisom had already lived in St. Louis for four years by the time he joined VFA. But getting to know the city via the startup community gave him an entirely new lens—he had a better sense of how change happened, what went on behind the scenes. He’s gotten to know the community in outside-of-work avenues, too. His favorite way to give back? Coaching a middle school basketball team. “Seeing passion and love for the game at that young of an age really motivates me to step aside from my professional life and really work with and be with kids. It’s great seeing how they want to get better at what they do—just like we all do as adults and professionals.”
A lifelong community
Chisom graduated from VFA in the summer of 2016, but he’s not leaving St. Louis any time soon. He lives with a group of Fellows and alumni, adopted a dog (hi, Bowde!), and is preparing to buy a house—he plans to be there for the long haul. He can tell the VFA community will remain a central part of his life, too. “Having these peers around me who are all so passionate about very different things, being able to learn from each other—it’s been invaluable. Information’s always there. Support’s always there. You can always find someone who’s doing something that you are struggling with to guide you through it. The VFA community has impacted me immensely.”