The New York City-based organ-donation startup Organize may be just a few months old, but already it's planning its demise. If all goes according to plan, the social venture will go out of business in five years.
Seems like a strange goal for a brand-new company, but for co-founder Greg Segal, its shuttering would signal a major, singular achievment: to upend the organ shortage in the U.S.
Before launching Organize in January, Segal, a 30-year-old former venture capitalist, watched his father go through three open-heart surgeries and wait five years before receiving a heart transplant that ultimately saved his life. Many others die waiting. Actually, according to Organize, 6,570 Americans perish each year because of a lack of available organ donations and, well, bureaucracy.
At its root, the problem is structural. “My dad’s heart transplant [surgeon] was wonderful," Segal says. "He's world class. That’s actually where the system's already perfect. What’s imperfect is everything about registering before that."
To prevent such prolonged and painful wait times, he and Jenna Arnold, 32, launched Organize to create the first central organ-donation registry. And although it seems to be an entirely pragmatic and sensible goal, the two co-founders have their work cut out for them.
Ninety percent of Americans support organ donation, yet only 40 percent are registered organ donors. This discrepancy is caused by what Segal calls an antiquated system that is currently run almost exclusively through each state's department of motor vehicles. Additionally, time-stretched and often overextended doctors are the main practitioners spearheading the current organ-donation effort.
To reach their goals of dramatically increasing and centralizing organ-donation registration, Arnold and Segal plan to spend the next five years executing marketing campaigns targeted at multiple demographics across the U.S. They want to shift the narrative around the crisis, says Arnold. “It's going to be something similar to the movement around seat belts or recycling or bike helmets,” she adds.
The company has made some progress. In Utah and Michigan, for instance, people may register at the Organize website and mobile website. In other states, users can sign up but won't yet be legally registered. Because each state has different rules, Organize is tackling online registration state by state.
Though that sounds pretty grueling, Segal's and Arnold's unifying belief is that the organ-donation problem is solvable. Unlike divining a cure for cancer, Segal says, there are practical steps that can move the needle in a matter of years. "If [my dad] had cancer, and the question was, How do I cure cancer? I would have no clue what to do," Segal says. "But because this is something where anyone can go out and register, people can participate in a solution."
Segal and Arnold are working to lower the barriers to entry of organ registration, but they are also tasked with proving themselves. Neither co-founder has a medical degree, for instance. And though Segal has worked in the startup scene, Organize is a new challenge, as it's a hybrid entity--that is, it's both a for-profit enterprise and a 501(c)(3).
Organize plans to make revenue from government contracts, through which the government pays the company to register donors. It will also license its technology, offer up corporate sponsorships--to transplant centers and pharmaceutical companies, for instance--and partner with consumer brands on different projects.
So far, however, the social venture has needed to rely on foundations and high-net-worth individuals for finances. One of those individuals is John Sobrato, a Silicon Valley real estate mogul and one of the owners of the San Francisco 49ers football team. Sobrato is Organize's first and largest funder.
Even without a traditional revenue model, the two do have some advantages. They're young, they've got plenty of time on their hands, and, most important, they're passionate, says Alex McDonald, director of public education at Intermountain Donor Services, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City.
"They both have that burning desire to improve things," says McDonald. "They are driven. They have the connections and the knowledge, and if they don't know the answer, they know who to tap into to get those answers."