The angel of entrepreneurs – Interview with Andreas Antonopoulos
Andreas Antonopoulos has been close to MSM Romania even before we were even formed. He was the one who started the Romanian chapter of Central European University (CEU) from Budapest, which then became MSM Romania in 2010.
He now teaches Entrepreneurship in our programs and has recently become a partner of the school. Having known him for quite some time, when I thought who the next lecturer should be featured in our blogs, his name popped up immediately. So, this is our discussion on the beginning of MSM, the profile of Romanian students and what are the key areas entrepreneurs should develop.
Tell us a bit about your background. What made you transition from a telecoms career to teaching? And which is the most challenging?
I was working in telecoms in London in the 90s for some big name multinationals in the industry. After doing my MBA and together with 2 other partners, we started an online media trading company in 2001 which was sold in 2003. Then, we built a boutique firm on telecom advisory which I exited in 2008.
This exit allowed me to progress to become an angel investor and started to invest in different businesses, which is also when I invested in Viva Credit, one of the first businesses I was involved in Romania. Moving forward, I also invested in Evertoys (formed by ex MSM students) and others in Romania and other countries.
When I concluded my PhD at University College London back in the 90s, I stayed on as a visiting professor and that’s how I started my teaching journey. In 2008 I accepted an offer to join University of Prague as a Rector and Professor of Entrepreneurship where I still serve. Hence, I would say that my background blends a combination of industry, entrepreneurship & investment and academia. Quite confusing at times.
I went into academia because I like teaching entrepreneurship and, equally important, because this is the place where you identify people and talent who you may have the opportunity to invest in at some point in future. And that is key interest of mine.
When did you first find out about MSM Romania and how?
I started CEU Romania as a subsidiary of CEU Hungary, through which we started an MBA program in Romania and Dora Surugiu (cofounder of MSM Romania) was my number 1 employee. After I left CEU, the partner for the Romanian MBA changed to MSM Netherlands, which is how it became MSM Romania. A few years later, in 2015, I started teaching Entrepreneurship in Romania again and in 2020 I invested into MSM and became one of the partners.
Do you have any memories from when you first started teaching at MSM in 2015? What do you think changed over the years in the students and in the Romanian education, as you see it?
I was very positively impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the MBA students in Romania – they really want to learn. They’re hard working and enthusiasts. The energy is amazing in Romania. It might not always be followed by action, but it is definitely there.
Comparing to the Czech Republic and other countries I teach in, I was overjoyed by this energy. It’s a pleasure to teach Romanians, they’re very ambitious, energetic, participating a lot. They want to become better, they want to learn and that is very uplifting for someone who’s teaching.
I consistently get good teams at MSM. I main change I have seen for the program has been the much better connection to the local ecosystem, able to bring better guest lecturers and bringing in better case studies. I see the entrepreneurship sector becoming stronger in Romania and education has changed to the better.
State schools have also become more practical in their teaching, which is a good thing in my opinion. The educational system, overall, seems more confident in terms of what it wants to achieve and how to achieve it – this is what I see as an outsider, as someone who doesn’t live in Romania full time.
You see students from all over the world every year. What would you say are some traits that set Romanian students apart from others? You already mentioned some traits of theirs, but are there other?
Ambition, willingness to work hard and lots of energy. They’re as smart and as good as other students from MBAs across the world, but they are more enthusiastic and more energetic. Very open to learning and very keen on keeping up to date, maybe even more on the cutting edge on learning the latest updates.
At our Executive MBA, you teach Entrepreneurship. What are top 3 things any entrepreneur should do to avoid failure?
Only 3? (laughs) First, it’s a practical tip, which is get some education or understanding into the topic – attend some seminars, understand how entrepreneurship works. Get some basic understanding of a few things. Don’t start a business if you don’t understand finance at all. Don’t start a business unless you have some experience with the market.
I would also like to emphasise a few personal traits, like being coachable. Be willing to listen, don’t go with an attitude that you already know everything. At the same time, be prepared to demonstrate substantial perseverance and grit. It’s always going to be a rocky ride.
You are also an investor in several businesses. How do you choose which businesses to invest in, what are your criteria?
First and foremost: people. It’s always the case where we ask ourselves “are these people the right people”? Right in terms of integrity, perseverance, coachability, skills, intelligence, experience and understanding of the area they want to disrupt. I can bring up with you a lot of qualities, but in the end, you have to trust your guts. It’s difficult to define a metric system to fully evaluate people, especially if knowing that some of the metrics may include a degree of subjectivity. Some of the skills can be developed, some of them not. Many of the these skills can be learned from entrepreneurial education and training exposure.
The second is timing. Whether the product or the service is too early or too late. And this is an educated guess, on the side of both the entrepreneur and the investor, based on the understanding of the market and the beliefs that they have. This is interconnected with the business plan.
Then the third has to do with the actual business specific characteristics, many of them can be found in the business plan. I couldn’t pick just one, because many need to be ticked.
Finally, you’ve recently become a partner of MSM Romania. What made you want to become more involved in the school’s development and what are your plans/hopes for the future?
I find the opportunity to disrupt education very exciting. I find MSM and the people involved in it very innovative and willing and able to develop programs that can really have an impact and that is very promising. It’s not that much of a business decision for me, but is rather the opportunity to be involved with a sector that I really like and the opportunity to change and impact the business education in Romania and the region.