Building Better: Amex Ventures and Philanthropi

Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Harshul Sanghi, Founder and Global Head of Amex Ventures, and with Dr. Keith Leaphart, Founder of Philanthropi, an Amex Ventures portfolio company.

Harshul Sanghi, Founder and Global Head, Amex Ventures

What is Amex Ventures’ mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?

Amex Ventures’ mission is to bring together the most innovative startups with the backing of American Express to enable the world’s best customer experiences every day. This can mean investing in companies whose technologies can enhance our own or investing in companies that help us introduce net new products to our customers. We also try wherever possible to facilitate partnerships between our portfolio companies and business units within American Express. In fact, 70% of companies that have joined our portfolio within the last three years have commercial relationships with Amex. Developing close relationships is one of the primary ways we add value for both our portfolio companies and American Express.

What does Amex Ventures look for when choosing to invest in a portfolio company? What made Amex Ventures invest in Philanthropi?

When we make new investments, we look for founders and companies building innovative solutions to long-standing problems in areas that are of importance to our customer base. In the case of Philanthropi, an investment was an easy decision for us for a few reasons. First, our Card Members are philanthropic and give to the causes they believe in – from 2010 to 2020, Amex’s U.S. Card Members gave $110M to charity through our JustGiving((Per the American Express 2020-2021 Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Report.)) (formerly known as Members Give) program. Second, we believe that giving should be an activity that is part of our daily lives, rather than a series of infrequent occurrences. Given this and the fact that Philanthropi is enabling intentionality of choice based on interests, we are excited about Philanthropi’s promise.

Finally, but not least important, is the Philanthropi team. Philanthropi’s founder and CEO Dr. Keith Leapheart is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and physician with a strong track record of success in all his endeavors. He’s currently the chair of the Lenfest Foundation, and has a deep understanding of the philanthropic ecosystem, its advantages, and its most under-optimized assets. He believes everyday people, more than foundations or corporations, are the primary growth drivers for giving, and that traditional metrics for quantifying philanthropy can, and should, be disrupted. We’re excited to see the progress he and the team make over the coming years as they connect charities with “everyday philanthropists” to unlock the full power of philanthropic efforts. We’re also pleased that this funding allows us to deliver on our commitment to invest in startups founded by underrepresented entrepreneurs.

How does Amex Ventures support portfolio companies like Philanthropi?

With Philanthropi we were able to invest in an early-stage company that is innovating and making in impact in an area that our customers care about and that we as a company also care deeply about.

Dr. Keith Leaphart, Founder, Philanthropi

What is the mission of your company and how did you start? 

Our mission at Philanthropi is to empower everyday givers to have a simple way to create and fund an account and give to the charity they care about most.

We set out to create a single platform that makes it simple for the everyday giver to have the same tools used by the world’s largest philanthropist. We started by developing a platform we could test with donors to learn how we can best use the power of technology to connect individuals to the charities they care about most. We are using this continuous input to design a better giving experience for both the donor and the charity.

How has your relationship with Amex Ventures helped you fulfill your mission?

Our relationship with Amex Ventures has been exceptional. The support we’ve received from the Amex Ventures team includes access to knowledgeable experts and innovators in financial services.  Amex Ventures has also given us access to insights to build the best Giving-as-a-Service platform.

What problem is your company trying to solve for?

Giving is very personal. However, the problem is that most giving platforms today are impersonal and transactional.  We believe there needs to be a deeper connection between the donor and the charity that goes beyond the transaction.

We feel strongly that it is important to recognize the unique relationship each person has with giving and to find new ways to engage, educate, and reward those who choose to use philanthropy to help empower their community.

Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next five years?

Five years is a long time to look ahead for any business, as we started on our journey just three years ago.  But now, more than ever, we believe this is the best time to reimagine how philanthropy can and should work for companies and individuals.

Our goal continues to be innovating the way in which giving occurs. We are focused on increasing value for donors while also eliminating unnecessary friction and expense for nonprofits. We are excited to work every day to realize this vision.

How has Amex Ventures impacted your company’s future for the better?

Building an innovative business is difficult. Amex Ventures is empowering us to accelerate the reimagination of a very important part of the world – the way we all give to charity. They have also accelerated our velocity to achieve our mission to democratize access for the everyday giver to participate in philanthropy.

We believe it is important to have an investment partner who shares both our vision and our values. Amex Ventures is that partner.