An Angel in New York: David Lerner



David Lerner, an angel investor with a knack for creating companies, is the host of Venture Studio, where he interviews entrepreneurs and major players in the tech world. In addition to founding his current place of employment, he is also responsible for the Startup Genome, which maps early-stage investments and entrepreneurial ecosystems across the globe, as well as the healthcare company LLS, Inc.

From 1994 to 2001, Lerner worked as CEO of LLS, Inc., which focused on treatment approaches for a lymphatic condition that affects 1% of the population. That vision led to the construction of treatment centers with teaching schools at institutions like Mass. General, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The company went through a strategic merger in 1998 and was sold four years later to one of the nation’s leading providers of physical medicine and rehabilitative services. Also in 2001, Lerner founded the investment firm Totius Group and Rugged Ventures.

He typically takes 5 to 7 projects a year, investing about $25,000 in each startup.  Through Totius, Lerner’s investments have included Klout, WeHostels, Food52 and Warby Parker. He has also invested in e-commerce, travel, clothing, social media, skill-based gaming, ad-tech, fashion, food, SAS and the medical device sectors.

Since 2006, Lerner has been the director of Venture Lab at Columbia University Technology Ventures, where he manages the 80 companies in the current portfolio. He also launches 12 to 15 new startups a year through the Columbia Seed Fund. In addition to these positions, Lerner is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate Schools of Business and Engineering.

As an undergraduate, the investor studied international law at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and the University of London. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Williams College. Adding being multilingual to his impressive list of specialties, Lerner speaks English, French and Spanish.

VC Firm:

Founder of Totius Group & Rugged Ventures (2001)


Consumer Internet, Digital Media, E-Commerce, Social Media, Healthcare Industry, Fashion Tech, Ad Tech, Travel Industry, Food Industry


New York Venture Community
Columbia Venture Community
New York Tech Meetup
Columbia Business School’s Lang Entrepreneurship Center  (where he is also venture advisor)

Expertise Area:

Corporate Development, Social Entrepreneurship, Strategic Consulting, Mergers and Acquisitions, Incubating Companies, Mentoring Entrepreneurs and Startups, Early-Stage Investing, Team Building and Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Blogs, Twitters & Websites:

Personal Blog

Memorable Quotes:

On finding your place in the startup world:  “You’re a pro or an amateur, there’s no in-between. Problems arise when folks don’t know what they are.

On doing business on a handshake:  “Well, I guess I’m one of those angels that does everything on a handshake – paperwork can come later. I won’t change the way I am. As for the couple of people that have violated my trust over the last 12 years, I can only blame myself for exercising bad judgment as to their character.”

On complaining about your co-workers:  “My view is simple – if you can’t stand it, no one is forcing you to work there, so why not get the hell out of there? Start bootstrapping a business, join a startup, find a better environment – do something, but by all means, stop whining about it.”

On pitching:  “Don’t start all your responses to questions with the word ‘So.’ You really do come off sounding pompous and signal that you have never operated a business. For example, ‘So I conceived of this idea whilst swimming across the Hellespont with a good friend from B-school,’ or, ‘Soooo we’re thinking that the pre-money valuation is….’  This will mostly piss off any entrepreneur/investor in the room over the age of 50.”

On investing:  “In a nutshell, I want to see a real missionary playing in a big market or creating a new one that no one imagined – someone with a huge vision who will not stop until some version of it is realized. I want to back someone who has and will make great sacrifices to succeed.”

On NYC’s entrepreneurial community:  “I think New York’s biggest secret weapon that no one talks about is the strength and closeness of its entrepreneurial community.”

The inspiration behind Venture Studio:  “I wanted to have a show that really helped entrepreneurs of all stripes – and that gave them the early mentorship I never received.  Entrepreneurs are my favorite people.”

Setting up venture labs at universities:  “This is a resource for students (and of course faculty) that gives them access to mentors, advice, contacts and general shaping of their entrepreneurial vision. In my view, this is as important as a Career Office!”

For more information on startup funding and investments, visit our funding section.

About the author: Jennifer Mottola

Jennifer recently received her MFA in creative writing from Manhattanville College, where she was fiction editor of the school’s literary journal, Inkwell.  She is currently a copy-editing intern for AlleyWatch.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.