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Navigating the Dutch Startup Scene with Ernst Rustenhoven from Slingshot Ventures

patricia-borlovan

Patricia Borlovan

· 3 min read
Navigating the Dutch Startup Scene with Ernst Rustenhoven from Slingshot Ventures
Ernst Rustenhoven, Principal at Slingshot Ventures, discusses the state of the Dutch startup ecosystem and the need for international cooperation.

As we explore the ins and outs of startup investments in the Netherlands, we have the pleasure of introducing Ernst Rustenhoven, a venture capitalist at Slingshot Ventures.

Ernst is an enthusiastic venture capital investor dedicated to helping businesses expand through data-driven decision-making and game-changing capital infusion. His unique expertise and passion lie in working with consumer-oriented companies, particularly those shaping the future of e-commerce and retail tech.

In this interview, we touch upon the following:

  • Ernst’s unique journey in becoming a venture capital investor, coming from a family business and nurturing his skills in M&A transactions and working for and in consumer-centric companies.
  • How do you balance gut feeling and data-driven decisions as an investor?
  • Future consumer unicorns in the Netherlands and what made Ernst Invest
  • How the startup ecosystem looks in the Netherlands nowadays?

Who is Ernst Rustenhoven?

Let me introduce you to Ernst Rustenhoven, a venture capitalist at Slingshot Ventures with a passion for solving problems through data-driven decision-making. Ernst holds a master's degree in Finance from the University of Amsterdam, worked on 50+ deals during his career in M&A and gained experience as an operator at e-commerce scale-up Recharge.com where he headed their strategic business development before moving to Slingshot Ventures about six years ago.

His analytical approach to problem-solving and ability to work effectively with entrepreneurs have made him a valuable asset in the venture capital world. Ernst is passionate about transforming actionable insights into business value, helping companies make better decisions, and enabling them to grow faster and improve their performance.

Ernst brings a unique perspective to the table, allowing him to think differently and help companies accomplish the unthinkable.

From Family Business to M&A to VC

“I thought that the most transformative moment in the history of a company, or the history of an entrepreneur, is probably when you buy or sell a company or your company. I wanted to be part of that.”

After focusing on M&A for about six years, Ernst eventually joined one of his clients, where he got to experience what working in a tech startup looks like. He found it more challenging to work with multiple companies to find out what makes each company unique.

“Coincidentally or not, while working at an M&A boutique firm, I also started advising online tech companies more often. I ended up with a few deals in that space; all were consumer businesses.”

However, after meeting with the founding partners of Slingshot Ventures, Ernst decided that the role of a VC investor encapsulates all his skills and previous experiences.

“After doing M&A for six years, I joined a company now called Recharge.com that sells digital content and payments solutions across the globe. Recharge.com grew very fast, and it was an exciting experience to work in a tech scaleup.

Doing both M&A with multiple companies and working for one company is a good learning experience for any business person. As a consultant, you are always on the sideline but only partially responsible. When you are part of the company, you are directly involved in its future and actions.”

So, six years ago, Enrst joined the Amsterdam-based VC fund Slingshot Ventures, which since then invested in 25 companies.

“I reached out to the founders of Slingshot Ventures after seeing them invest in consumer startups. Since my previous experience was focused on the same industry, I thought it would be an excellent position to join the firm, and so it was.

I got on board around the closing of the first €60M fund in 2017, and more recently we raised another €60M for the second fund. Since the inception of the fund, we have invested in about 25 companies.”

“I don’t think that I deliberately chose to become an investor. With time, I realized I love working with entrepreneurs and helping them grow their companies.

In this role, I can leverage my strengths and knowledge and experience from my previous positions, which can benefit multiple companies.”

Ernst comes from an entrepreneurial family with his dad and brother running the family business. He shares that he always liked working in a place where he can make a difference, which is why - moving into M&A at the start of his career - the big investment banks were never for him. It is still one of the reasons why he loves working in venture capital, being able to be a small part and contributor to the journey of the entrepreneurs he works with.

Gaining Traction Despite COVID-19 — Insights From Eatch & Wundermart

Let's explore two local startups, Eatch and Wundermart, with Ernst, who managed to gain momentum despite the pandemic. These two success stories could serve as a blueprint for becoming a unicorn in the local market.

The first company, Wundermart, builds autonomously functioning convenience stores for hotels as an alternative to minibars. The company struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic but has gained traction and has around 150 shops across Western Europe.

“In 2020, we invested in Wundermart, a company that builds autonomously functioning convenience stores for hotels as an alternative to minibars. Although COVID-19 significantly impacted the hotel industry shortly after our investment, Wundermart has since bounced back and is now approaching 150 shops across Western Europe.

It's a bold mission, as it eliminates the need for each hotel room to have a mini-fridge and offers a larger product assortment with an automated checkout. We're proud to have invested in such an innovative and forward-thinking company.”

“The second company, Eatch, works on a kitchen technology that produces about 300 meals per hour, which, if you want, are all custom-made. This innovation can genuinely disrupt the food industry, and to see it come to life and work is fantastic.

The company is now attracting lots of interest from big companies and caterers, and it's always nice to see your personal success stories or the ones you believed in eventually do well.”

As an investor, it's important to have portfolio diversification, and these two companies are proving to be successful additions.

The VC scene in the Netherlands

Many startups also emerged with the new wave of abundant capital and the local ecosystem's explosion. Ernst gives us a quick perspective on the relatively connected Dutch startup ecosystem that has allowed for greater investor cooperation.

“I joined Slingshot in 2017, at the early start of the real venture capital boom.

Since then, I have seen a lot of new funds popping up here in the Netherlands. In addition, some smaller funds built a good track record and managed to raise more significant funds.

With a new wave of abundant capital came a new wave of startups. Also, the Dutch startup ecosystem is relatively connected, so we can cooperate - which we should do much more by the way.”

Netherlands — part of the global ecosystem.

Amsterdam is a city that attracts a lot of top international talent, but Ernst thinks that it needs to catch up in terms of competitiveness for salaries or equity incentives.

“I think it’s vital that we cooperate more with international VCs because, in the end, we are not a large country and part of a global ecosystem. This is why I think having a good connection across Western Europe and in the U.S. and other like-minded investors is very important.

Regarding consumer-centric startups, we don’t have many consumer-focused investors. Across Western Europe, I think there are between 5-10 dedicated VCs, and we should probably cooperate more.

This goes for the entire Dutch ecosystem. The Netherlands is known as a very international country, and there are a lot of opportunities to improve our current efforts.”

Key takeaways:

  • Evaluating a potential investment combines an investor’s gut feeling and a rigorous approach that involves asking unexpected questions.
  • The Netherlands has seen a boom in VC funds and startups, particularly in consumer investment.
  • More cooperation among Dutch VCs and international VCs could improve access to capital for Dutch companies.
  • Building a robust Amsterdam startup ecosystem that is well-connected to international markets and capital is crucial for Dutch companies to increase their competitiveness and attract top talent.

Resources mentioned in the discussion:

Connect with Ernst:

Others:

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