Propel raises $4M to make the social safety net more tech savvy and user friendly

Some big names are making an investment in food stamps — specifically in Propel, a startup that helps food stamp recipients manage their benefits.

Propel is announcing that it has raised $4 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Omidyar Network, Kevin Durant’s The Durant Company and Max Levchin’s SciFi VC, as well as previous investors Jay Borenstein, WinWin and the Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

“We’re excited to prove that venture-backed startups can responsibly address social issues, too,” founder and CEO Jimmy Chen told me via email. “In our business model, the best way to amplify our impact is to grow our business, by getting more users on the platform or by finding them more savings on groceries.”

Propel has created a free app called Fresh EBT — the EBT refers the Electronics Benefits Transfer card, which is how participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food stamp program) receive their benefits. Apparently using the EBT card normally requires people to call a hotline and save their grocery receipts. With Fresh EBT, on the other hand, people can check their card balance from their smartphone, browse nearby deals, see which stores accept SNAP and create a shopping list.

The startup says more than 250,000 people use Fresh EBT at least once a week. The ultimate goal is to help users access a variety of different services, not just food stamps/SNAP, and to create “a more user-friendly safety net.”

Asked whether future growth will depend on the broader political landscape and on government funding for these programs, Chen noted that SNAP hasn’t been significantly affected by the Trump administration — at least not yet.

“More broadly, if public sector service become less dependable during this administration, 20 million American families will still remain food insecure,” he said. “At Propel, our charter is to continue to help those Americans put food on the table. As a privately funded organization, we have the ability to persist despite political trends and to serve low-income Americans directly by combining the best public sector, private sector, and nonprofit sector programs to create a more effective safety net.”

Update, May 8: Propel says Nasir Jones, a.k.a. Nas, has also invested.