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HEC MBA Sees Magic In Silicon Valley Entrepreneurship

Vasilios Danias dropped a career with Accenture to run his own consultancy firm in London. But since starting an MBA at HEC Paris, he has one eye set on Silicon Valley.

Wed Jan 15 2014

When Vasilios Danias wasn't consulting clients at Accenture, he relaxed by yachting around Greek islands. 
He twice skippered Accenture's sailing teams to success at the Corporate Match Race, seeing off competition from Grant Thornton and Vodafone.
"I've been sailing since I was a kid and we won two years in a row with Accenture," says Vasilios from his new home in Jouy-en-Josas, France. "It was about teamwork and motivating the group, and making them believe we could win."
That was back in 2010 when he still worked for the blue-chip management consultancy. Most MBAs would kill for a position at Accenture, but Vasilios had other ideas. Flash-forward four years and he manages his own consultancy firm in London - alongside earning an MBA from HEC Paris Business School.
"I have literally zero spare time now," he half-jokes. "The thing about being an entrepreneur is that you have to want to change the way you think and have to want to improve something. 
"You can't accept the status quo; for me, that's what entrepreneurship is about."
Vasilios may be in France right now, but his first taste of business was in his home, Athens. He worked for a cotton and yarn brokerage firm in the Greek capital but in 2003 left to run his own online start-up, dnp media. 
The business created flash-based websites and educational applications to teach English to children. At the time, webpages were quite static. 
"I didn't know much about informatics but I learned on my own and picked it up quite quickly," says Vasilios. "The magic with that technology is that you can create things from nothing on computers. You couldn't beat that at the time."
But the business closed down when he left to study engineering at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He saw it as a way to secure his future and build a foundation of knowledge.
It is not strictly business related knowledge, yet he is just one of many MBAs that come from engineering and technical backgrounds.
After graduation he moved south and landed a job with UBS, the leading investment bank, in London as a temporary summer analyst.
When Vasilios returned to Greece in 2010, the financial crisis was in full-flow and the jobs market in Europe had shrunk. But that didn't stop him sailing into a job with Accenture, where he consulted on systems integration for over a year. 
Yet he concedes part of the motivation for leaving the firm was a lack of opportunity during the recession. Many consultants at the time began an MBA to escape the debt crisis in Europe - although Vasilios had a few projects to tick off his list first. 
When he left Accenture's Athens branch in 2011, Greece had just been handed a €110 billion bailout package. 
"The projects at Accenture were not as appealing in terms of ability to progress," Vasilios says. "You couldn’t see any future in terms of salary increases or promotion opportunities, so it didn’t make sense to stay there."
He joined another cotton brokerage firm, Vamvaki Ltd, before launching his own consultancy firm in London at the end of 2011. He may have moved away from the embattled Eurozone, but he admits running a start-up consultancy comes with its own challenges.
"Its obviously easier to not worry about where your next project is coming from, negotiating the prices and agreeing terms with clients," he says. "But on the other hand you have the flexibility of choosing when you're going to work.
"The UK environment was a lot easier than in Greece. It has always been difficult setting up a business in Greece because of the bureaucracy, but this process is streamlined in the UK."
He ran that start-up - in a as a freelance consultant role - for two years before joining the MBA program at HEC Paris. Vasilios felt b-school was necessary to take his entrepreneurial ventures to the next level.
"For any entrepreneurial venture, the most important thing is people," he says. "An MBA is a great way of meeting interesting and capable people, and creating a network. Knowledge and credentials always help too."
He plans to do a double-degree at MIT, in connection with HEC Paris, after graduation this year and thinks that will give him a route into the US market.
And although there are a great number of high MBA Ranking business schools in the United States, Vasilios chose HEC in-part because he has a dual Greek-French nationality. 
"It was a good opportunity to combine everything and I'm glad I came to HEC," he explains. "I feel I am getting a lot out of the program. I'm starting to see things in a different way and everyone here is in a strong business mind-set now."
He can always go back to his consultancy start-up (which is still alive, but on the back-burner), but entrepreneurs must think bigger than single enterprises. An MBA is Vasilios's route to an international career. 
He has one eye fixed on mergers-and-acquisitions ("the best training ground for any entrepreneurship afterwards"), and one eye on Silicon Valley. He doesn't rule out a return to London or a career in Europe, but tech entrepreneurship in the US is an exciting prospect.
"Most businesses today are heavily based on technology one way or another, and its an area I feel comfortable in," he says. "But I don't think I'll be limited to just technology. If another business idea or project presents itself, I'll take it."
An MBA has taught him that. Entrepreneurs must be open to all opportunities. 
"It's about finding something that I'm passionate about," he adds. "That's what is most important to me."