Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has said, “The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.”
This certainly reflects the spirit and momentum of Wilmette’s Lindsay Avner Kaplan: social entrepreneur, health care ignitor, wife, and mother.
Fueled by her medical history involving a grandmother and great-grandmother who died a week apart before she was born—and a mother who is a 25-year breast cancer and 24-year ovarian cancer survivor—Avner Kaplan launched Bright Pink at the age of 24.
“After testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation just weeks after graduating from the University of Michigan, I made history in 2006 at the age of 23 as the youngest woman in the country to have a risk-reducing double mastectomy,” says Avner Kaplan.
“It was during that experience when I realized that as a country, we often wait until someone is diagnosed with cancer to take action. And yet, it does not have to be that way. We have an opportunity to play offense and not defense, and in doing so, prevent women from the hardship that a cancer diagnosis and the surrounding treatment causes to her and her family,” she continues.
“When I started Bright Pink, I never intended to leave my day job—I was working in brand management at Unilever,” she recalls.
Through the launch of a website, Avner Kaplan wanted to share her knowledge to offer medical resources, support, and encouragement with high-risk young women. The high level of engagement took on a life of its own. Today, Bright Pink is one of the largest breast and ovarian health organizations in the country, with a mission to arm, educate, and empower women to serve as proactive advocates for their breast and ovarian health.
The organization has a wide-ranging reach: an array of online resources includes ExploreYourGenetics.org and AssessYourRisk.org, Bright Pink’s signature digital risk assessment tool that has been completed by more than 1.5 million women to date. Additionally, Bright Pink has educated more than 100,000 women through in-person workshops and more than 18,000 women’s health providers, including Ob-gyns, internists, and nurse practitioners. Partnerships with a slate of major brands including Aerie, Vineyard Vines, WNBA, Paul Mitchell, and Deloitte amplify the organization’s reach.
During the first decade, as CEO of Bright Pink, Avner Kaplan spearheaded the organization’s growth and development. This involved pursuing high impact donors and leadership as she played a direct role in building Bright Pink’s Board of Directors. This process led her to one fortuitous meeting with Gregg Kaplan, a recent widower, whose wife had died of breast cancer.
Avner Kaplan was looking for an entrepreneur to get involved with Bright Pink; Kaplan was looking for a way to honor his late wife Felicia while caring for his three young children.
“At the time, I was looking for an entrepreneurial board member,” she says. Kaplan’s business background involved the launch and growth of the DVD rental business RedBox from zero to $2 billion in revenue in seven years.
“In 2013, what started as a professional relationship led to dating and marriage in 2015.” Their blended family includes three oldest children who comprised the wedding party, with oldest son Zach (now 21, a senior at Vanderbilt University) as Gregg’s best man and Lexie (now 18, a Harvard freshman) and Abby (now 16, a junior at North Shore Country Day) as Avner Kaplan’s co-maids of honor. In 2016, the family expanded to include Lucy and then in 2018, Jack.
Avner Kaplan is understandably exceptionally proud of her family’s involvement with Bright Pink: Zach enlisted the New Trier Cross Country teams’ support through an annual $15,000 fundraiser, as well as being a Bright Pink intern; Lexie served as the first high school education ambassador.
Looking ahead, as Bright Pink continues to grow, Kaplan has taken the role as Chairman of the Board of the organization as Avner Kaplan continues in an advisory capacity.
“Together, we have spearheaded a new strategic plan with the help of Boston Consulting Group honing in on the organization’s digital capabilities in reaching women and we are really fortunate to have an incredible Board of Directors alongside us,” she says.
“For me personally, I think I have struck a good blend for the year ahead. In addition to my role as a board member and founder of Bright Pink, I was elected to serve on the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Council on Breast Cancer in Young Women and am currently chairing a working group focused on reaching medical providers, something I have a tremendous amount of passion for. I speak several times a year, including a recent engagement at Pinterest’s corporate headquarters. In addition, I am on the Board of YPO Chicago where I serve as the Spouse Event Chair and am a room mom at Rose Hall Montessori School, where Lucy (3 years old) and Jack (15 months) are in school,” she explains. Avner Kaplan feels fortunate that she is still able to serve and make a difference in the arena of prevention and early detection, even though her top job these days is mom of five.
For more information, visit brightpink.org.