Brad Zelinger is co-chairing The Fifth Annual Reverse Rett Chicago Gala at Galleria Marchetti on Thursday, May 23rd. ChiTribe chatted with Brad about Reverse Rett and why it is so important to him and his family to find a cure for Rett Syndrome.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in Deerfield and, after high school, I went to study business at The University of Michigan. Post-Michigan, I went to NYC for an Investment Banking role. Then I came back to Chicago to join a Private Equity firm. I was fortunate to get into Harvard Business School and graduated in 2018. Post-HBS I went back into Private Equity in New York, but my entrepreneurial appetite became so strong I decided to quit after about eight months to pursue my own venture. I’m relocating to Chicago by June 2019 to search for a small business to acquire and operate. I formed an LLC, Bedford Grove Capital, to facilitate this interest (www.bedfordgrovecap.com).
Rett Syndrome and Reverse Rett
Reverse Rett is born out of our love and support of my older sister, Marissa. She was diagnosed with Rett at age three, as many of the developmental milestones she achieved began to unravel and regress. As you might imagine, this was a terrifying experience for my parents, especially since there was far less information about Rett Syndrome back then. It took what felt like an eternity for my parents to get a firm diagnosis.
Many girls with Rett Syndrome can’t walk or talk, have limited use of their hands, and suffer from a number of other symptoms, such as scoliosis and seizures. Most girls and women require 24-hour care.
Despite the rough road girls with Rett have had, there is reason to be incredibly hopeful about their future. Rett is a random genetic mutation (non-hereditary), and the specific gene that produces Rett has been discovered. Since that discovery, mouse models of the disorder have been completely reversed, suggesting that, in principal, Rett is curable.
All funds raised through Reverse Rett Chicago go to Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT). This organization is responsible for much of the scientific progress towards a cure. They work tirelessly to find and attract world class scientists to focus on our mission and facilitate communication with all the thought leaders, industry participants (pharma and biotech companies), and investors.
Finding a Cure for Women and Girls
I am often a skeptic, but I actually believe a cure for Rett Syndrome is around the corner. One of the advantages of Rett today is that the gene has been identified. Many other, more common disorders, like Autism or Alzheimer’s, have not had this kind of breakthrough.
Our understanding is that Rett girls are aware of what is going on, but they are trapped in their bodies, unable to communicate or control themselves physically. That fact, combined with how close the science is to a cure, gives me strong motivation to push things forward. Marissa has significantly shaped my identity and there are countless ways she has impacted me. I know that if roles were reversed she’d do the same for me.
Starting Reverse Rett Chicago
My career started off in NYC, and I wanted to better understand how I could get involved in the non-profit world. Rett Syndrome was a very natural place to channel my energy, so I went to a fundraising event for RSRT in NYC to learn more. I was 21 or 22 years old and was so moved by what I saw at the event. I had never been surrounded by so many people who knew and cared about Rett Syndrome. I learned more about where the research was and that a cure was becoming more realistic.
A couple months after the NYC event, I accepted an offer with a private equity firm based in Chicago. I had over a year before the role would begin and contacted the head of RSRT to find out if they had anything like the NYC event in Chicago. They did not.
I relayed this info to my family and encouraged them to launch a fundraiser in Chicago. That is how the event was born. We have been so lucky to have the generous support of family and friends over the years. We have both a young professional committee and an adult committee that help with our efforts.
The range of demographics that attends the event is really wide. We have everyone from young adults to grandparents, which creates a really unique and fun ambiance. We find that people enjoy eating, drinking and catching up so much that we have trouble getting their attention when we want to start our speeches. I suppose this is a good problem to have.
Reverse Rett Chicago 2019
It is remarkable, but we are on our fifth year already. In the first four years we have raised about $1.2 million and had about 400+ people attend each year. This year is similar to years past in that we will have 7-8 local Chicago restaurants offering small bites, some of their top dishes. Tanta, Beatirx, Francesca’s, Ruth’s Chris and Hamachi Sushi are a few that come to mind. There will be an open bar with craft beer and spirits and a jazz band playing music. There is a live and silent auction that people can participate in as well. Of course, there will be a program where we can update and inform people about research on Rett Syndrome.
The event is at Galleria Marchetti, May 23rd from 6-10pm. There is a special price for people 30 and under.
MAY 23, 2019
825 W Erie St
Chicago, IL 60642