Speaker Spotlight: David Langer, Founding Partner, Lionheart Ventures
Lionheart Ventures Q&A
David Langer, Founding Partner, Lionheart Ventures
Interviewed by Erin Roche, CEO of Candy & Flowers
Q: What is Lionheart Ventures?
Lionheart Ventures is a seed-stage venture capital firm investing in transformative mental health startups, with a focus on psychedelic medicine.
We have over $30M in assets under management and our primary strategy is to lead or co-lead pre-seed and seed rounds, obtaining 5-10% ownership in these companies. As a result of the ownership requirements and the resulting discipline around valuation, we are fortunate to have fared much better during 2022 than much of the industry. Our portfolio includes Reconnect Labs, Bexson Biomedical, Mindstate and Calm, the first mental health unicorn.
Within psychedelics, Lionheart indexes heavily towards investing in startups founded by scientists who have been researching these molecules for decades, or where synthetic analogs of medicines used by indigenous groups are being developed. There is a significant amount of valuable knowledge accumulated here that has yet to be realized by the traditional healthcare system, and we believe that startups carrying this knowledge are systematically undervalued given the risk profile of the clinical trials they still have to carry out.
Lionheart recognizes the importance of startups having strong IP in order to secure the necessary later stage funding to complete multiple phases of clinical trials, and we are fortunate to be advised by industry leading IP attorney Graham Pechenik, founder of Calyx Law.
As is common with such innovation, this new field of mental health treatments brings a new set of risks and challenges, which is why Lionheart has developed “Psychedelic Investing Principles” in conjunction with a selection of leading thinkers in the field. These cover a range of important considerations ranging from IP, democratized access and maintaining right relationship with indigenous stakeholders. Lionheart was invited to present these principles on stage at the 2022 Horizons conference in New York City, and they were also included in the upcoming best practices guidebook by North Star, an ethical trade association for the psychedelic field.
Q: What is your background and why did you start Lionheart Ventures?
Prior to starting Lionheart, I started two venture-backed technology startups so I know exactly what it’s like to be in the founder’s shoes.
My entrepreneurial journey began at age 19 when I started a SaaS company called GroupSpaces from my dorm room at Oxford, where I studied a mathematics degree. GroupSpaces hosted over 5 million memberships from over 100 countries before reaching profitability. The company was backed by investors including Index Ventures, Lowercase Capital and Avonmore Developments.
I then went on to be the founder and CEO at Zesty, a health corporate catering company with a mission to improve the health of humanity. Zesty served over 7 million meals and raised more than $20 million from investors including Founders Fund, Index Ventures and Y Combinator before being acquired by Square in 2018.
Alongside and subsequent to Zesty, I became increasingly interested in angel investing as I found that I really enjoyed supporting founders. Ultimately, I invested in over 20 companies prior to founding Lionheart, with a gross MOIC of >10x and counting, including two unicorns.
Over time, I increasingly realized that I enjoy being an investor more than running a technology company, and decided to start a VC firm to invest in the most impactful areas I could. I believe that humanity has a lot of potential as a species, however we are facing a number of existential threats to our survival. As we develop progressively more advanced technology, I believe that the only way we can make it through is by tackling the crisis in mental health and consciousness that exists today. My views on this have been informed by a combination of successfully tackling some of my own mental health challenges over the years, as well as the rapidly growing body of research.
With this in mind, Lionheart has focused on investing in a portfolio of the most transformative and scalable technologies to address this crisis. In particular, psychedelic-assisted therapy is showing great promise in treating a wide range of conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and chronic pain as well as promoting creativity, insight, and self-reflection. We believe that supporting the most promising startups working on psychedelic research and therapy will be crucial to unlocking the potential of this field and addressing the crisis at scale.
Q: Tell me a little more about the team at Lionheart Ventures. First, how long have you been around, what has the evolution of the team looked like and where are you today?
Lionheart wrote our first check in 2019 and since then, we have recruited a core team of 8 people, supported by over a dozen advisors who are specialists in certain areas.
Our Investment team is comprised of three people, all of whom have been founders themselves. Our other partner is Shelby Clark, who founded Turo, a car sharing marketplace now doing several billion dollars in revenue. More recently Shelby also co-founded Holos, a psychedelic retreat center network. As a fellow repeat entrepreneur, Shelby also knows what it’s like to be in the founder’s shoes very well. Shelby and I are supported by our Principal, Milan Griffes, who previously founded Atman, a psilocybin retreat center in Jamaica with an NPS of 7 and holds a Master’s in Public Health from John Hopkins.
Our Finance team is led by CFO Shara Jubilado, who brings tier 1 venture experience to the team, having previously worked in-house at Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures.
Rounding out our leadership team, we have Renée Alexiev as Chief of Staff, who was previously an early employee at luxury CBD startup Lord Jones, which was acquired by Cronos for $300M; and Christina Lundberg as Head of Communications, who was previously Managing Director at PSYCH, a leading data and intelligence platform for the psychedelic healthcare industry, as well as Head of PR for iZettle, who were acquired by PayPal for $2.2B.
We are proud to have an extensive team of advisors who are experts in their field, including Graham Pechenik, founder of Calyx Law, a leading patent attorney in cannabis and psychedelics; Dr. Tracy Brandmeyer, a neuroscientist who serves as the Chief Science Officer at BrainMind, and Dr. Joseph Barsuglia, a clinical and research psychologist specializing in psychedelic medicine. With our combined expertise, we are well-positioned to identify and attract the leading psychedelics and other mental health startups in the industry.
Q: What would you like investors to know about Lionheart Ventures?
In addition to the deep founder expertise and psychedelic experience within our investment team, Lionheart offers a range of resources to our founders to increase their odds of success.
We offer mastermind groups for founders within our portfolio, as well as a coach matchmaking service, with our network of over 50 world-class coaches of different modalities.
Additionally, we host a global summit in Costa Rica each year, where we bring our community of founders, LPs and some of our coaches together in one place, along with our team. We offer a range of talks, workshops and experiences to support the challenges we’ve repeatedly seen people face in startups. This event is a unique opportunity to connect with a community of incredibly inspiring people who are committed to making a positive impact on the world.
Last but not least, our Fund I is performing very well, sitting at over 50% gross IRR with more than 75% deployed. While we are serious about doing things in the right way, we are also serious about our returns, and we are proving that you don’t need to compromise.
Q: Where can we find more information about Lionheart Ventures?
Lionheart is intentionally somewhat stealth from a public perspective. For inquiries, please email email@example.com.
The Cannabis & Psychedelics Investment Summit Series showcases the best and brightest cannabis and psychedelic entrepreneurs and is the premiere summit for institutional investors, family offices, and ultra high net worth investors. Request an invitation to attend the upcoming summit taking place February 27, 2023 in Miami, FL at www.kahnerglobal.com. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking and sponsorship opportunities.