American Express Starts $100 Million Fund to Keep an Eye on the Valley

American Express has created a $100 million investment fund to ensure it won’t miss out on the next digital commerce opportunity.

The fund will be managed from the New York company’s newly opened office in Palo Alto, Calif., where it will be led by Harshul Sanghi. Sanghi previously ran Motorola Mobility Ventures.

In an interview, American Express Enterprise Growth President Dan Schulman said the company is interested in start-ups in the digital commerce space, including those focused on loyalty and rewards programs, personalized offers, location-based services, security issues, analytics and online and mobile payments.

Schulman said the goal is to acquire a minority stake in the companies and form a strategic partnership with them, so that they can take advantage of American Express’s 94 million customers. Companies may also have access to its other assets, such as consumer data, as long as privacy is maintained.

American Express has already made a number of investments in the space. Those companies will not be part of the fund. Earlier this year, it invested in Payfone, a mobile payments technology company; it has also formed a joint partnership with Vente-Privee, a French-owned flash sales site.

Among the opportunities that American Express may have potentially missed out on is Square, a mobile payments company led by Twitter exec Jack Dorsey, which raised capital from investors including Visa.

“This is a demonstration of our very serious committment toward moving to a digital landscape,” Schulman said. “This is one of many initiatives that we are doing to get ready for the future and hopefully being a leader in digital payments.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik