Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD—a full-time radiation oncologist, mother of four, and founder of BFFL Co., an innovator in surgery-recovery products—swears she doesn’t have more hours in the day than the rest of us. Rather, she says, “I am a really hard worker. I have ‘stick-to-itiveness.’”
With no prior business experience, the Harvard and Johns Hopkins-trained physician has grown her company by providing surgery-specific recovery kits—“BFFLBags”—containing essential medical-care supplies, practical items like toiletries and a notepad, and comforting “extras” like skincare items and healthy snack bars. Most recently, the business has expanded into designing innovative medical garments that improve comfort and efficacy for patients.
In 2006, she’d experienced firsthand the needs of patients post-surgery, having undergone prophylactic mastectomies at age 38. Frustrated with her outdated, painful surgical bra, she sewed her own prototypes at home late at night, after full days at her practice and taking care of her family.
“When I saw that nobody else was going to try to improve the ‘soft’ goods in radiation oncology,” she says, “I realized I had an opportunity. New surgical techniques have revolutionized breast reconstruction, yet hospitals were buying the same pathetic bras that were designed by a man in 1970.”
BFFL Co. (which stands for Best Friends For Life) became a reality in 2011, with the help of funding from Thompson’s friends and family. “It has taken almost three years to become profitable,” she says. “We’ve always had a trajectory of growth, but, now, with 22 hospitals buying our surgical bras, we’ve had the ‘good’ problem of running out of stock.” The company has five employees today, and has moved from Thompson’s basement to an office/ warehouse in Scarsdale. Its BFFLBags and bras have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine; Shape; and Us Weekly; among other outlets—and more garments are in the works.
“I just returned from a conference in San Francisco where I presented my ideas to a few thousand radiation oncologists and ‘the industry,’”
Thompson says. “There was a white space in the market. You’ve got to get out there, take chances, and sometimes get lucky in the right place at the right time.”