Alumnus lands founded company on the top of Inc. Magazine list

Chris Barnett’s company, ABA Centers of America, takes the top spot on Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Regionals: Southeast List for 2024.

Chris Barnett unveiling Maddy's Room, a room designed to accommodate all types of students with different sensory needs, on Dec. 6, 2023 at Ritter Annex. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Chris Barnett always had a go-getter attitude. After being rejected from Temple nearly 15 years ago, he made his admissions counselor a promise: if he were accepted, he would make a name for himself as a prominent alumnus. 

He was accepted in 2008 and fulfilled his promise by founding and serving as the chief operating officer at ABA Centers of America, which provides applied behavioral analysis services to children with autism to develop daily living and social skills. 

About 12 years later, in December 2023, the 2011 political science alumnus returned to Main Campus and opened “Maddy’s Room,” Temple’s first sensory room in an academic space, named after Barnett’s daughter, as a collaboration between Temple and ABA Centers.

Now, the same company is establishing Barnett as an even more successful Owl. ABA Centers landed first on Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Regionals: Southeast List for 2024.  

“Chris Barnett is a successful, dedicated, Temple made alum,” wrote Mitchell Morgan, Temple Board of Trustees Chairman and friend of Barnett, in an email to The Temple News. “He has built an amazing business and recognizes the importance of his education at Temple University.”

Inc., a business magazine, features the annual 5,000 list to highlight the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States. 

When Barnett founded ABA Centers in 2020, the company employed only four people, including Barnett; at the end of 2023, there were 1,650 team members spanning two countries. 

“We’ve got this team of committed individuals that we’ve been fortunate enough to incorporate into what was my baby and now it’s our baby,” Barnett said. “I’m really grateful to be able to attract that level of talent and that level of expertise and that level of just compassionate, mission-driven team members that row on our boat with us in the same direction.”

Between 2020 and 2022, ABA Centers experienced a revenue growth of 6,625 percent, according to the Inc. 5000 Regionals list. This financial success continued into 2023, with a year-over-year increase of more than 450 percent from 2022.

Barnett’s motivation for starting ABA Centers stemmed from personal experience as a parent of a child on the autism spectrum. Faced with difficulties in accessing diagnosis and care for his daughter Madison, Barnett and his wife recognized the inadequacies in the existing autism care landscape and decided to take action.

“I looked at what was available in the marketplace for autism care,” Barnett said. “My wife and I really said, ‘That’s just not good enough,’ and then it led to, with the infrastructure that we have, that we can do better.”

ABA Centers aims to provide quick, nationwide access to diagnostic appointments and essential care to families in need of life-changing support. Barnett gathers data to help personalize care and expand resources, which helped propel ABA Centers to the top of Inc.’s list.

Currently operating in nine states and based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Barnett aims to expand this reach in the coming years. Although its ultimate goal is nationwide coverage, it approaches expansion one state at a time, focusing on achieving strategic growth goals incrementally.

If a family feels they need support systems in place for their autistic child, ABA Centers offers an admissions line with round-the-clock support and no waitlist. The center provides diagnostic appointments within three weeks and initiates treatment within 47 days of the initial call. 

More than 20 percent of autism care centers in the United States have waitlists of a year or longer, according to a report from Cognoa, a pediatric healthcare company. Following this, even after reaching out to healthcare professionals for a diagnosis, screenings can take up to 13 months.

“The old academia says that with autism and ABA, early intervention leads to the best outcomes and so it’s typical for kiddo to sit on a waiting list for a diagnosis for a year or even two years and then just sit on a waiting list for ABA care for a year or two years,” Barnett said. “You lose that window of early intervention.”

Barnett’s promise to his Temple admissions counselor nearly 15 years ago has continued to fulfill itself. In addition to contributions to campus like Maddy’s Room, the organization donated $1 million to Temple’s Autism Lab in October 2022, supporting autism research, diagnostic services and student training.

“I think one of the things that was really striking to me is his interest in making a difference at Temple, really supporting some of the services that are being provided and expanding some of the services for students,” said Philip McCallion, a social work professor and director and director of ABA Centers’ Autism Lab within Temple. 

In the next couple of weeks, ABA Centers will continue to grow its footprint in the immediate Pennsylvania area, with an autism care center opening in Bala Cynwyd on May 1. 

“A mission-driven organization that’s really impacting people’s lives is the number one fastest growing business in the southeastern US on the Inc’s list,” Barnett said. “It’s good to hear because we’re not just doing it clinically, but we’re performing from a business strategy point of view also.”

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