Algonquin resident Brad Balduf always has had an entrepreneurial spirit. With a background in real estate and an outgoing personality, he likes to make things happen.
A few years ago, Balduf, 42, was out to dinner with his wife, Jennifer, and their friends Julie and Craig Martin. Julie, a speech and behavioral therapist, mentioned how she felt she could do so much more for autistic children if she had more autonomy and resources.
“Little did I know, that really got the wheels turning in Brad’s head,” she said.
Balduf went to work developing a business plan.
“I like to start something from scratch and watch it grow,” he said. Balduf quickly found several independent investors and raised enough money to start an autism center.
When Balduf emailed the Martins with the news, they were shocked.
“It meant a lot to me that Brad believed in what I did,” Julie said. “It was humbling that he had that much faith in me.”
Balduf’s ambition inspired Craig as well.
“It was scary, jumping in with no safety net,” he said. “But it was one of those things where if you don’t try, you’ll look back and regret it.”
In October 2009, By Your Side Autism Language Center opened in Burr Ridge. Julie signed on as center director, and Craig took on the center’s finances and operations.
“Our dream was really coming together,” Balduf said.
The trio designed By Your Side with rooms like a house to create a familiar, realistic setting for families. As they began to grow, they added some square footage to their Burr Ridge location, but, as Balduf said, “there are only so many rooms in a house.”
To serve families better, they decided to look into opening another location.
“We wanted to keep the intimacy of a home setting,” Balduf said. “Plus, people were driving from all over to get here. Autism is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week condition. It’s hard to drive that far every week for a two-hour session.”
Balduf and the Martins decided to open another location in Schaumburg. They recently held an open house event at the new site, which also is designed like a house with separate rooms, such as a kitchen, playground and library.
“We can’t grow fast enough,” Balduf said. “It’s kind of sad, really, that there are not enough resources for families out there. There is definitely room for expansion.”
For Balduf, the rewards of starting By Your Side are priceless.
“It’s so personally rewarding,” he said. “It’s great to grow a business and also do something really special in the process.”