Startups and Experts Are Excited About THI’s Connect the Dots Online Mentoring
November 17, 2022
One way to describe The Hellenic Initiative is to say it is about “people helping people.” Another apt slogan is: ‘helping to build the New Greece’. Sharing experiences and information is also what THI relationships are for.
All these concepts come together in THI’s Connect the Dots, the business mentorship community that connects daily through the online platform it provides.
This online mentoring program is building stronger ties between experts in the United States and promising startups in Greece. Danielle Harrison is a mentor living in the United States and Pavlos Vasileiadis is a mentee whose travel industry startup Upiria is based in Greece.
While they are not in a mentoring situation per se, with this article THI is highlighting the relationship they have developed to show how easy and flexible the Connect the Dots platform is, and to emphasize that mentor-mentee exchanges are mutually beneficial.
“Ours became more a networking relationship,” Danielle said. “I told him ‘I am not sure I can help you,’” – both stressed that honesty and openness from the start on the part of mentor and m
entee are crucial to getting the most out of the platform – “but I introduced him to a relative of mine in marketing communications.”
Danielle was delighted to help Pavlos – and they both value their ongoing conversations – because she became excited about Upiria’s prospects from the first moment they spoke.
Indeed Pavlos’ enthusiasm and faith in the startup is infectious. Speaking to prospective clients he says, “if
you all got together and decided to create the newest, sexiest travel-related technology company – you will have built Upiria.”
In addition to Greece – Pavlos was born and raised there and Danielle is a third generation Greek-American – they have entrepreneurial family backgrounds in common.
Pavlos studied in Thessaloniki before going abroad and his father and mother are in the food business. “I learned from him how to be customer-focused. His saying, which will stick with me forever, is ‘never sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself.’ If you stick to that principle, your business will be an amazing success. It always works.”
Danielle’s expertise is in technology communications and she said, “I joined THI to get in touch with my Greek heritage.” She is now a THI New Leader.
Danielle discovered THI while in Greece. After listening to a podcast featuring past THI Executive Director Peter Poulos, she knew, “I wanted to get involved with the organization… I just reached out to Peter and he introduced me to some people at THI. I told them about my background and they said a good place to start is Connect the Dots.”
“I joined the platform, created a profile , and began connecting with individuals. It’s about having an initial conversation and learning about each other, understanding what we do, what our expertise is, and what we both want to get out of the program – and if I don’t have the right skills to help this person, I will close the loop and help the startup make other good connections.”
The program is valuable for her professionally because she is ready to leap into a managerial role, so gaining mentoring experience helps.
Pavlos is just as delighted with Connect the Dots. “I was chatting with Michael Printzos,” THI’s Program Manager, “about my startup and he said, “‘you know, you are a really good candidate for our new program.’”
“I fell in love with the platform straightaway. I went down the list of people they provided and saw there were so many knowledgeable people with experience, and all were welcoming and willing to support and back you up – I just dived into that!”
Pavlos added, “I met and chatted with 8-10 people, online and in person, including Danielle, with different backgrounds, and it was super helpful. I literally have the platform pinned on my browser and I check on it daily.”
Connect the Dots assisted Pavlos not only with the concrete challenges of his particular startup, but with a powerful transition he is making. He has returned to Greece after eight years in the UK where he was in business applications development as an IT consultant. He enjoyed the projects and travelling – but it was time for something different.
He liked consulting, in that “you get a lot of exposure – it’s like getting ten years of experience in just two years of working, but you spend a year or more on a project, building something, getting attached to the project or product – it feels like it’s your child – and then you go away.”
He came to a point, “where I wanted my own product, to know it inside and out, so I combined my favorite sector with my technology knowledge and we set up while I was still in London – but for family reasons I moved back to Thessaloniki.”
“We have a pilot product now with customers playing with it, and a couple of big deals” are in the works. It’s still in early stages, but after a couple of years of running the startup, you see the results of your labor and it’s so rewarding!”
Pavlos’ goal is to disrupt the travel industry with an innovative technical solution.
He explained that many small and medium sized firms in the tourism sector are forced to work with big online companies which charge a very high commission.
Especially after the pandemic, they realized that “paying 30% in order to get customers for your business is not financially sustainable – especially with tax on top of that… It’s unfair, because those ladies and gentlemen are doing an amazing job – the tourism product in Greece is high quality,” he said.
“Upiria, our innovative marketplace for travel experiences, offers a seamless bookings process and allows everyone to freely interact with each other. Our business application is the necessary toolkit for every travel professional, allowing them to unlock their true potential and offer travelers truly unforgettable moments” they they charge substantially lower commissions.
He says Upiria should be seen as the provider of a technology “infrastructure for travel businesses, a bridge between Greek travel products and travel businesses in Europe.”
Through the platform, Pavlos said, “I have had some long and really insightful conversations with people like Giorgos Argyropoulos, Agisilaos Stathakis, Petros Perselis, Aris Karanikas, and Maria Moragianis.
And he likes the flexibility. “You don’t have to bombard the mentors with problems every week. Some of the mentors I touch base with on a three-month basis…I just summarize what has happened that has led to some hard decisions I need to make, and they embrace those challenges and support me.”
And part of the beauty is that Pavlos is now in ‘give back’ mode, motivated to mentor others. “It’s interesting… I like getting mentored, hearing other people’s opinions – it evolves me as a professional – and I like sharing my knowledge with the next generation.”
“And, Sometimes when they succeed, you get more excited than they do,” he said.