“I was like, ‘Nobody’s going to believe me,’” van Riemsdyk said with a laugh.
While teammates Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny were not aware he participated in the program [“I guess I don’t know my teammates,” Konecny joked], the news didn’t surprise them at all.
“No, not one bit,” Konecny said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he were doing a course right now. He’s always learning, and it’s hard to do that. A lot of guys say they want to do that and stay on top of things, but it’s another thing to do it, which he does.”
Education has always been emphasized in the van Riemsdyk family. However, when it was required of him in high school and college, it held less appeal. But once he left the University of New Hampshire in 2009, his natural curiosity drove him to keep seeking out more knowledge.
When he heard about the Harvard program, which was originally created in partnership with the NBA, van Riemsdyk jumped at the chance to work with current Harvard MBA students. He filled out the application, which consisted of a series of open-ended questions (he’s glad he didn’t have to include his transcripts — he doesn’t know where he’d find them, although he said maybe his mom would know).
After being one of about 70 professional athletes accepted, he became one of seven NHL players to participate in the program, along with former Flyers goalie Brian Elliott. They went through case studies that interested them, from learning about how a team has to make decisions in a small market to studying small businesses plans.
Prior to participating in the program, Van Riemsdyk’s natural inclination towards math had already led him towards the financial sector. He had started to focus on business classes before he left UNH. While he hesitated at first as a young athlete to partner with investors, once he saw other athletes like LeBron James expand their interests into business, he gained the confidence to start exploring.
“Just seeing how they’ve done these sorts of things, like it’s OK to have these interests,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s OK to pursue these things, and it doesn’t have to take away from anything else.”
Van Riemsdyk learned through trial and error, as well as through the advice of trusted mentors like his brothers-in-law. He learned that liking a product doesn’t mean you should back it. There needs to be a good business plan behind it, as well.
He soon found how his interests as an athlete could match with his interests as an investor.
Early on, he partnered with State and Liberty, a menswear company started by a hockey friend, Lee Moffie, and Moffie’s college friend Steven Fisher. The company’s goal is to create the perfect dress shirt for athletes through size and material.
“I thought that aligned up with what I was all about,” van Riemsdyk said.
Van Riemsdyk began to build a brand through his investments. His interest in health and wellness showed in the organizations he partnered with, from a company that develops mouthguards through 3D imaging to Lactigo, a recovery gel that helps you recover faster.
The relationships have proved to be mutually beneficial. Van Riemsdyk brings his following as an athlete and financial backing and, in return, gets to “see behind the curtain” and learn about new products and ideas early. Now, he’s the guy with all the connections.
“He’s got everything,” Konecny said. “You can ask him about anything, and he knows a guy. It could be a pair of sneakers; it could be a new jacket; it could be a new stick. He has somebody that’s got a connection, so it’s pretty cool.”
As a kid from a small town in rural Ontario, Konecny said it’s been cool for him to be exposed to new things through van Riemsdyk. At first, he wasn’t too sure about what van Riemsdyk was up to, though.
“He was looking at me like I had six heads with some of the stuff I was doing, some of the breath work,” said van Riemsdyk, who partners with an app that provides mental and physical exercises.
Konecny said that happened multiple times. He specifically recalls a time he was trying to hold a conversation with van Riemsdyk, but he couldn’t answer because he was “like, breathing or something. I don’t know.”
But Konecny decided to ask him about it and soon enough was joining van Riemsdyk’s endeavors. Through him, he’s learned about vitamin supplements and breathing exercises. And, when van Riemsdyk went home for the summer, Konecny kept up the exercises.
“So that was funny to hear,” van Riemsdyk said.