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INTERVIEW

Matthieu Ventelon (SKEMA 2016), founder of Hedonia

15 November 2023 INTERVIEW

Mathieu went on one expatriation trip after another during his studies, including to Canada, the US, South Korea and China. After completing a Master's degree at SKEMA Business School, he decided to move to Suzhou. There, he created Hedonia, the first institution in China to offer courses on oenology and the French lifestyle. He talks about his international academic career and this incredible entrepreneurial adventure in Asia.

 

Can you tell us about your academic background?

I was born in Tours but grew up in Toulouse. After high school, I entered a business school in Toulouse. In my second year of undergraduate studies, I was lucky enough to go on an academic exchange to Montreal for a year.

I then returned to France to join SKEMA Business School's International Business Master's programme. After a semester at the Lille campus, I was keen to discover foreign campuses. The international dimension is one of the school's strong points and one of the reasons I chose it.

So I left to study for six months at the Raleigh campus, in North Carolina, USA. I already knew a little about the country, having made a few trips there. It was a part of the world that really appealed to me at the time, and I was even thinking of starting my career there, as I'd always wanted to work abroad.

I then returned to France for a year's study in Paris, during which I worked in the sound industry: a field that had long appealed to me, as I'd always been passionate about music. I spent a year working in business development for a start-up producing directional loudspeakers.

Then I got the urge to discover Asia, a place I knew nothing about and which intrigued me. I spent six months on an academic exchange in Seoul, South Korea, and fell in love with the city.

During my Master 2 at SKEMA Business School, I specialised in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. As as I was still keen to explore Asia, I went to study for six months at the SKEMA campus in Suzhou, China, 100 kilometers from Shanghai.

At first glance, I wasn't too taken with the city. But I quickly made some great friends and had the opportunity to explore the old town: a truly charming area full of canals and narrow streets that have earned it the nickname of "Venice of the East". I've come to love Suzhou! It's also where I met my wife.

 

 

What was your career path after SKEMA Business School?

At the end of my semester in Suzhou, I decided to look for professional opportunities locally. I did an internship with BottlesXO, a wine importer specialising in home deliveries.

At the time, I didn't know the wine world very well, but my father is a keen wine-lover, and, being from the Loire region, I was fairly familiar with it all the same.

I was in charge of the company's business development. In other words, my role was to sell wine to companies, restaurants and private individuals. At the same time, I did a course with the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust), the world's largest wine training organisation. I took Level 1 in Paris, then Level 2 in London. This benchmark training enabled me to develop an initial expertise in oenology.

This professional experience, which lasted a year and a half, was the springboard for the rest of this venture in China.

 

How did Hedonia come into being?

 

When I worked at BottlesXO, I had to organise tasting workshops to sell the wine, during which I explained to a Chinese audience how to taste and serve wine. One day, an English teacher who worked at a school where I was running workshops asked me if I could also teach the French lifestyle and etiquette.

This request came as a bit of a surprise, but as I knew the subject well because of my mother's upbringing, I decided to go for it! So I organised a 90-minute workshop explaining how to set a table, place the cutlery, behave at table, taste wine and so on.

As Chinese culture and behaviour at table are very different, this workshop aroused a great deal of interest, and I soon received a lot of requests to organise others.

That's when I realised that here was an opportunity to be seized, so that's how my company Hedonia was created in in December 2018.

What services does Hedonia offer, and who is it for?

 

Hedonia is a training institute specialising in two fields: oenology and etiquette.

We offer wine culture workshops and training courses (tasting, food and wine pairing and sommellerie). These courses are aimed at the hotel industry (waiters, hotel school students, etc.) and private individuals. We offer monthly WSET training courses in Shanghai, in English and Chinese. We also organise wine tourism trips to famous wine regions in China (like Ningxia and, Yunnan) and France (Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, Paris). These trips help to forge links between France and China.

 

With our Etiquette offer, we provide training for a variety of audiences:

  • Luxury brands looking to improve the way they welcome customers in-store (we have worked with companies like Cartier and Jaeger Lecoultre);

  • Sales representatives who need to accompany VIP customers to trade shows;

  • International companies whose employees travel all over the world, to whom we offer business etiquette courses (how to conduct a business meal with a European counterpart, the appropriate dress code, what good manners to know to avoid making blunders and so on);

  • Business schools, including SKEMA Business School, for Chinese students planning to move to France. We explain French culture to them, and the codes they need to know to ease their integration into French life.

We also offer a range of events for French brands (like L'Oréal, DS Automobile and Guerlain), and offer them special events for their VIP customers: wine tasting; French tea; fashion workshops; table manners, and more.

Our offer has been extended to the web, and for the past three years we have been offering videos in Chinese on these different themes (wine, etiquette, French culture, etc.).

In short, Hedonia is all about the French lifestyle in China! I love acting as an ambassador for French culture over here.

 

Why did you choose to study at SKEMA Business School?

 

My brother had studied at SKEMA Business School and joined the Suzhou campus several years earlier, so I knew the school well. But it was above all the high level of international mobility offered to students that convinced me.

During my time at SKEMA, I had the chance to study in 5 different cities around the world!

In addition to this international dimension, I really valued the quality of the teaching. The teachers are themselves professionals with brilliant track records, some of whom had set up businesses abroad. It was very inspiring!

SKEMA Business School also gave me a lot of support right from the launch of my company, allowing me to run workshops on the Suzhou campus with local partners. This gave a real boost to my business when I was just starting out.

 

What advice would you give to young graduates of SKEMA Business School who want to become entrepreneurs?

 

My advice would be not to force yourself to come up with an idea too soon. I think you need to give an idea time to germinate, so that it emerges naturally through different professional experiences, encounters and internships. It might also be a good idea to test your idea and try it out in the real world gradually, by doing internships in the targeted field, for example. In my view, this is the best way to find an idea that's in line with your values and passions, and will pay off financially.

 

Contact: Matthieu Ventelon - Founder of Hedonia

Interview by lepetitjournal.com for SKEMA Alumni

 

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