Derk van Wingerden, co-founder of Riverdam.
Manuel Leussink, co-founder of Riverdam.

// 03.19.2021

riverdam: introducing derk van wingerden and manuel leussink.

Derk van Wingerden and Manuel Leussink both started investing when they were teenagers. Since then, they’ve honed their passion for entrepreneurship and investing amongst an impressive list of names: HelloFresh, felyx, Egeria and Sprinklr to name but a few. And last year, amid the pandemic, they founded a new investment company, Riverdam.

Riverdam works exclusively with Dutch SMEs, a focus that smartly matches the pair’s new venture with decades of experience in the sector.

It’s also a sector that the two founders believe is the backbone of the economy and vital for a dynamic marketplace and a skilled workforce. But whilst they know first-hand the value of SMEs, Derk and Manuel have seen countless businesses fail to realise their full potential. Riverdam is their answer.

We talked to Derk and Manuel about their first experiences of investing, starting a company during the pandemic and the risks and rewards that come with the job.

How did you start investing? 

Derk: I actually started investing more than 20 years ago when I was 14. I bought and sold stocks (by phone) whilst I was cycling to school as part of an investment challenge between my dad and me. It was a fun way to spark my curiosity and begin to understand a company’s strategy, its products and services as well as its performance. 

Then at 17, I started my first business and felt for the first time what it’s like to do something you love and be successful at it. That was my first understanding of entrepreneurship. I was hooked.

And that passion never really went away. It just developed and I became more experienced in helping entrepreneurs build, shape and realize their dreams. And that’s what Riverdam does too. We see so many companies in the market that don’t realise their full potential but could with some extra help.

We like finding these opportunities, embracing them and trying to realise a company’s potential together with the entrepreneur(s) and their teams. I want to build Riverdam with the same enjoyment I had when I was a teenager.

Manuel: And I started investing when I was 16. I won a small prize in a programming contest which I invested with one of the Robeco funds. I can still remember the thrill of scanning through the newspapers’ financial pages every day to see how the funds I invested in were performing. 

What’s Riverdam’s mission?

We help ambitious small and medium-sized companies grow through capital, energy and trust.

And why did you choose to focus on SMEs? 

SMEs are the foundation of the Dutch economy. They drive economic growth, are a source of innovation and progress, provide employment and contribute to a dynamic marketplace of goods and services. 

But despite this, we believe SMEs are undervalued and have enormous (often unrealized) growth potential. And that’s where we come in. We help companies tap into their potential. 

Why did you feel that the pandemic was a good time to start Riverdam? 

The pandemic hasn’t affected all sectors equally, and there have been those who have experienced growth such as IT, health, e-commerce and food. So even in the face of the pandemic, we saw opportunities to help others grow.

We also saw that a lot of companies were actively looking for capital during the pandemic. Not because entrepreneurs were in financial trouble, but because the pandemic has given them time to think about their lives, their businesses, their ambitions, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And this has led to many businesses wanting to take action. Again, we saw this as a chance to help those entrepreneurs take the action they wanted.

What do you look for in SMEs when you’re evaluating whether to invest in them? 

We focus on profitable B2B and B2C companies with a proven business model and product/market fit. Their revenue should be between 2 and 20 million euros, and we look for a distinctive market position with a genuine perspective for significant growth. 

We also only invest in businesses that have their headquarters in the Netherlands and that have existed for more than 3 years. We’ve carefully created this focus because this is where our expertise, network and experience are. With these companies, we can offer real value. You can read about our full investment criteria on our website.

What’s the most rewarding part of investing in and helping SMEs? 

Investing in a business with potential and unlocking that potential is incredibly rewarding. At the same time, having fun and facing challenges with the entrepreneurs and their teams is equally as special. 

And what are the challenges and risks? 

Although we do our best to minimize risks, investing in SMEs always comes with some risk. It could be that a team’s growth is risky. Or it could be that a business’ fundamentals aren’t rock solid even though they’ve managed so far. But risks are part of the game, and as we said, facing the challenges is also part of the rewards!

How has the pandemic changed the SME financing landscape? 

The Dutch government did well to make so much financial support available so quickly. And because of that and the historically low-interest rates, cash is abundant in the market. We believe this is the right time to reset your business strategy, reassess your fundamentals, review your tactics and consider your financial opportunities to prepare for future growth.

And finally, how’re you feeling about 2021 for both SMEs and Riverdam? 

It’s been such a difficult past year for so many, but we’re optimistic about the road ahead. The pandemic is still hanging over us, but we will recover, especially companies that have a good management team and a resilient business model. We hope to contribute to the recovery as much as we can.


Next read: introducing jennifer reinhard and hanne gerhards from hej.