International Alumni & Friends
From Ball State to bikini entrepreneur: a success story

Entrepreneur Thales Panagides’ office looks out on a beach scene in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil
Entrepreneur Thales Panagides’ office looks out on a beach scene in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil

The word "entrepreneurship" is as closely identified with Ball State and the Miller College of Business as any single noun. When it comes to embodying the word, few could rival 1998 MBA graduate Thales Panagides. 

What follows, in Thales' own words, is an account of his path toward becoming the world's largest independent distributor of Brazilian bikinis:

Shortly after graduating with an MBA from BSU in 1998, I accepted my cousin's invitation to visit him in Brazil.  He started a small but rapidly growing company providing Internet connectivity, email, and web hosting services.   I had initially planned on spending a couple of weeks before returning to the States to get a job but instantly fell in love with Brazil and thought I could put to good use the knowledge I had acquired from Ball State's entrepreneurial program.  Internet startups were all the rage and day after day we read about entrepreneurs becoming instant millionaires when their venture backed companies went public. 

Our timing with the Internet boom in 2000 proved to be impeccable.  It was at the peak of the Internet frenzy when a business plan I wrote caught the attention of a reputable VC firm and resulted in our company (Inova Technologias) being funded.  We ended up moving from the beach side city of Fortaleza to Sao Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world.  It didn't take long before the Internet boom eventually busted and only a few hundred companies survived the shakeout.  We were one of the few still standing and operating profitably but not with the expectations of going public any time soon.

Five years later, I longed to return to the sandy beaches of Fortaleza.  I remember writing down things I wanted to accomplish professionally based on my strengths and interests.   The list basically came down to a few key points: being self employed, having a home office with a view of the Ocean, harnessing my internet marketing skills and passion for international trade and somehow taking advantage of my presence in Brazil.  This exercise helped bring to focus my professional purpose and path.  I needed to identify a product that was in demand but not difficult to export meaning it had to be compact and light.  I thought of shoes, purses and dozens of other products but the one thing that stood out were Brazilian Bikinis.  They're known worldwide and one of the few things people associate Brazil with other than coffee, soccer, and Carnival.

And this is where the story gets interesting.

I began researching possible bikini suppliers and the first factory I visited expressed a strong interest in exporting.  The bikinis were of high quality and the catalog images eye catching which was important since they would be posted online.  It turns out that the owner's parents had emigrated from Greece to Brazil.  This was a huge coincidence since I also spoke Greek.  Driving home I thought of this coincidence and the unlikely probability of finding someone in the heart of Sao Paulo who spoke Greek but also supplied Brazilian bikinis with the standards I was after.  If it wasn't a small miracle it was definitely a positive sign.  I purchased some samples and the next step was to probe demand and launch them on eBay.  I listed 10 bikinis and anxiously waited to see if there would be any buyers.  I never felt so energized about anything in a long time and that's probably why that same night I had a dream that was so real and memorable as if it happened today. I dreamt that most of the bikinis I launched on eBay had bids and therefore proved that the product and concept of selling bikinis online was viable.  I woke up and hoped that the dream would prove to be true so I was eager to get to the office and check online if there were any buyers.  I rushed breakfast and quickly wanted to see what was on CNN.   Amazingly, a reporter was interviewing a lady who owned a farm in the south of England whose income suffered drastically after being hit by the "Mad Cow Disease. "  It was a fascinating story about how she used the Internet to supplement her lost income by selling Plus size lingerie at an average price of $80 to women all over the world.  She converted her barn into an office complete with computers and a place to store inventory.   I thought if she could sell lingerie from a farm in the UK targeting Plus size women than surely I would do well selling Brazilian bikinis from Brazil.  On the way to work I thought that was another incredible coincidence.  I felt a rush.  The dream I had along with the CNN report were positive signs and after checking on line I saw that 7 of the 10 bikinis had active buyers.  It was then that I knew I hit a home run.  There were simply too many coincidences!  I shared this story with many people and some interpret it as being lucky while others as providence or part of life's mysteries but deep inside I know which one it is.

And as they say, the rest is history.  Today I'm the largest independent distributor of authentic Brazilian bikinis in the world.   I sell in 41 countries and have sold at least one bikini in every State with the exception of Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming.   The site can be viewed at: www.brazilian-bikinis.net