Only 3 percent of Mexicans donate blood without being asked to do so specifically for a sick friend or relative. As a result, many Mexicans die each year from a lack of adequate blood for transfusions.
This directly affected César Esquivel, CEO of Blooders, a Monterrey-based startup connecting blood donors with those in need of blood. His coworker Charlie lost his wife while she was ill in the hospital, resulting in part from a lack of blood. “He was very worried,” Esquivel said. “He couldn’t even find it on the black market. He told me, ‘If I don’t get the blood, they’re not going to help my wife,’” César Esquivel said.
To do something about this problem, César Esquivel and his brother Javier Esquivel founded Blooders in 2014 after developing the idea at a ‘startup weekend’ event held by local incubator Startup Studio Monterrey. They have since been in beta mode, aiming for a public launch this summer.
Blooders’ app provides a platform where donors can sign up and make appointments at local hospitals, rather than walking in and waiting, and those in need of blood can create a campaign page to request blood donations, “like Kickstarter for blood donation.” They also aim to tackle one of the underlying causes of poor blood donation rates: a lack of follow-up. “In [developing] countries, once you donate, the cycle ends,” César Esquivel said. Blooders tracks and follows up with every donor.
Currently, the project is in two states in Mexico—Nuevo León and Puebla—and has 3,000 active donors and 2,500 active campaigns. They are currently in negotiation with a hospital in a third state—Tabasco—and plan to expand across the country, and then across Latin America in the next year or two.
The two said that because the U.S. system is so different from Latin American countries’, it would be a difficult market to start with: “If we go to the U.S., we would work with the blood donation centers. Since they are usually big corporations, they think we are a menace, even though we’re really their partners.”
Due to Mexico’s lack of a ‘social enterprise’ designation for businesses, Blooders is run as a hybrid organization with a non-profit side that connects blood donors and recipients, and a for-profit side that sells donor management software to hospitals.
As they expand, they said they foresee regulatory issues, technology adoption, and trust being their biggest barriers. Unlike in the United States, most hospitals in Latin America do not have a Chief Innovation Officer yet, so figuring out who within the hospital is the buyer has also been tough. They do, however, plan to borrow guidelines from the U.S. health privacy law, HIPAA, on blood portability and safety.
Javier thinks trade agreements “could be really amazing,” but that, “NAFTA, for example, has a very complicated set of rules for organs—and blood donation is considered in the same category.” Simplifying that process “would be a benefit for us. For example, a patient needs blood in Texas and the donor is in Mexico. That would be the ideal world for us.”