Strategically Creative, Creatively Strategic

  • Photo of Melissa Ballate Melissa Ballate President Close
    • To Blue Daring, a Fearless Founder

      Early in her career, Melissa realized that everything that works, in business and life, is a perfect marriage of form and function. It was the inspiration for starting Blue Daring where she serves as our team’s leader and a senior strategist and thought partner to our clients—dedicated to helping them articulate their value and leverage their brands and strengths in meaningful ways. 

    • To Chicago, a Homegrown Leader

      Melissa is passionate about education, business and travel and gives her time to organizations that nurture them. She serves on the board of Loyola University’s Quinlan School of Business and is a member of the prestigious Economic Club of Chicago. She is also a co-owner of two retail concessions at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. She previously served on the Chicago Police Board.

      She is a lifelong Chicagoan, a mother of two, a huge fan of boxing and an aspiring polyglot. She loves Europe and is on a current quest to learn the cello.

  • Photo of Vanessa Mentor Vanessa Mentor Ideation Lead Close
    • An Eye on Culture

      Vanessa’s knowledge of psychographic and demographic trends, culture and popular attitudes is unrivaled. As Blue Daring’s Ideation Lead, she puts it to work daily to inform strategies and brands, develop unique names and concept creative and culturally-contextual ideas and tactics that engage.

      Her intuition with people doesn’t stop there. As BD’s longest tenured team member and first hire, she also anchors our team culture keeping us—individually and collectively—inspired, connected and growing.

      Vanessa attended Harold Washington College in Chicago.

    • And What's New and Next

      Is there something she doesn’t know? Vanessa’s cultural connection and curiosity make our go-to for everything from the best restaurants and trending cities to the latest social media phenomenon and binge-worthy TV (especially reality TV which she shamelessly loves).

      She spends her spare time exploring new recipes in the kitchen and checking out what’s new on the ever-evolving beverage scene.

  • Photo of Shuky Leung Shuky Leung Creative Lead Close
    • Multi-dimensional Creative Leader

      When it comes to delivering strategic design solutions, Shuky is the best of both worlds. As a multi-dimensional senior creative, she is capable of designing brands and communications that— combined with her experiential design expertise—creatively make the most of every possible medium. As a highly proficient manager of people and resources, she helps the creative team deliver on complex branding projects in industries ranging from healthcare and manufacturing to philanthropy and the arts.

      She attended Chicago’s Columbia College and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts.

    • Aerialist with Style

      Shuky’s creative skills go way beyond design. As an aerialist specializing in silks, she enjoys doing acrobatics while suspended in midair (gracefully, of course). She is also our resident fashionista and raises the Blue Daring fashion bar with her bold, colorful and cutting-edge style.

      Shuky savors elevated food experiences and loves exploring downtown Chicago for hidden design gems and adventures.

  • Photo of Veronica Cruz Veronica Cruz Outreach + Execution Lead Close
    • Moving Things Forward

      Veronica’s ability to get things done is a remarkable combination of being able to anticipate needs and genuinely wanting to help others. She applies it daily to help both clients—like Toyota and the Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation—and our team meet deadlines and achieve strategic objectives. Prior to joining Blue Daring, Veronica also honed her community outreach and coordination skills as part of the team that helped the Chicago Transit Authority launch Ventra.

      Veronica attended DePaul University where she majored in PR, Advertising and Applied Communications.

    • Organized Even in Oven Mitts

      When she’s not at work, Veronica relaxes (and indulges her sweet tooth) by finding delicious new recipes and baking treats for her family and friends. Seems perfectly fitting, since the qualities it takes to be a good baker—organization and exactitude—are the ones that make her such a great project leader.

  • Photo of David Palia David Palia Public Involvement Lead Close
    • Focused on Commute Times

      David joined us after working for over 30 years at the Illinois Department of Transportation. As our Public Involvement Lead, he is responsible for coordinating local agencies, engineers and our creative team to manage public outreach efforts, facilitate community meetings and deliver unique but direct communications around projects affecting the public.

    • Kicking It on Island Time

      After a full day (and full career) concentrating on big city transportation, it’s no surprise that David turns to some of the most laid back hobbies and places to help him unwind: golf, fishing, hunting, reading (namely history books and political autobiographies) and traveling. A couple of his favorite destinations are Key West and the Bahamas, two places where no one’s in a hurry.

  • Photo of Chris Richards Chris Richards Designer Close
    • Thoughtful Design in Every Detail

      Chris believes that great design isn’t just visually stunning, it’s rooted in clear thinking and deep understanding. As a member of the creative team, Chris combines this strategic lens with an impeccable eye for detail to visualize ideas across media—from print to web. Chris has spent a lifetime immersing himself in all things artistic, and moved to Chicago to attend Harrington School of Design.

    • Inspiration in Every Mile

      Chris doesn’t just stretch his creative muscles—he’s also an avid runner, usually clocking between 8 to 16 miles per week. He has completed several charity races in Chicago, and says it’s his favorite way to destress, stay in shape and think of his next creative undertaking.

  • Photo of Genevieve Waller Genevieve Waller Writer + Strategist Close
    • Knowing What Makes a Good Story Great

      Belief in the power of a well-told tale (real or imagined) is the unwavering throughline for all of Genevieve’s work. An accomplished journalist, teaching artist, researcher, writer and communicator with 20+ years’ experience in the U.S. and abroad, she’s an expert collaborator when it comes to helping clients build narratives and share stories through a lens that’s both strategic and creative.

    • Mining the Best and Brightest Details

      Curiosity and, fittingly, a bit of daring have driven Genevieve across state lines and country borders, through cities, over oceans, and up mountains into remarkable adventures. When not cracking open an atlas, she savors Chicago, the city she knows best in the world, laughs a lot with her friends, relishes her family, practices fiction writing, pursues a variety of interests – photography, printmaking, gardening and music among them – and does as much as she can every day to aid the renaissance of wonder.

  • Photo of Riley Brady Riley Brady Designer + Manager Close
    • Steeped in Design Knowledge and Experience

      Riley creates brand stories that speak powerfully to a variety of audiences and industries. Her conceptual and visually-harmonious work is rooted in her fine arts and art history background. She is passionate about achieving inclusivity and accessibility through design. Previously as a Graphic Designer for the world-renowned School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she honed a bevy of additional skills—including complex production, multimedia project management and motion-based design.

    • A Cultural Omnivore, Collecting Inspiration

      A lifelong library-goer and dedicated CD-borrower, Riley is continuously on the lookout for what to read, watch and listen to next. Her love of learning new things informs her personal art practice, which is rooted in illustration, printmaking and traditional craft. Importantly, she believes learning and art are for everyone, and loves engaging equally with the “high culture” of postmodern fiction and Italian Renaissance art, and the “low culture” of punk music and B-grade horror movies.

  • Photo of Pete Grupico Pete Grupico Designer Close
    • Combining Purpose, Intention and Creativity

      An illustrator, photographer and printmaker as well as a designer, Pete understands the crucial role that visuals play in building compelling brand narratives. Whether working on boutique projects for specific industries, companies and non-profits, or learning about the latest developments in the field of graphic design, Pete’s technical skills, creative talents and analytical abilities add depth and dimension to the support we give clients in bringing their visions to life.

    • Discovering New Places and Spaces

      Pete holds a BFA from Kutztown University and, after spending the last few years living and working in NYC, he’s exploring the sights and sounds of Chicago and the Midwest, often with pup Zeppelin by his side. An avid sports fan, he roots for his favorite Philadelphia team whenever there’s a game on (Fly, Eagles Fly), continues to expand his impressive collection of concert and movie posters—horror is a favorite genre—and can often be found checking out the city’s vibrant live music scene, not only for entertainment but also as source of creative inspiration.

  • Photo of Kyle Richer Kyle Richer Designer Close
    • Amplifying Impact Through Design

      Kyle is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer whose love of color, texture and visual storytelling energizes and enhances the ways we bring brands and strategies to life. He creatively supports brands, initiatives, products and a full spectrum of print and digital communications, always with a collaborative spirit, an eye for what’s current and keen attention to detail.

      Kyle earned a BFA in graphic design and illustration from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

    • Artmaking as a Way of Life

      Like many of our team members, Kyle is an avid cyclist and an enthusiastic city explorer, and often in the company of friends. Closer to home, he hangs out with Samson, his 10-year-old chihuahua, and nurtures his talents by working on illustration projects and operating his online store, which features an evolving collection of vintage and antique goods he refurbishes and upcycles — always with his own style and flare.

  • Photo of David Hart David Hart Communications + Outreach Associate Close
    • A Project Manager that Empowers Clients

      David’s concise communication skills and attention to projects benefit our team and clients alike. His experience with managing multiple events has enabled him to balance creating surveys and conducting analysis for a rebrand while also coordinating meetings for a Chicago Department of Transportation revitalization project in Pilsen/Little Village. More recently, he is supporting the launch of a Cook County Health promotional campaign focused on heart health.

      David holds a BA in Advertising and Public Relations from Loyola University-Chicago.

    • A Traveler Putting Down Chicago Roots

      Born and raised in New Orleans before coming to Chicago for college, David is an avid traveler who has visited 31 states thus far in his quest to see all 50. When he’s not on the road, he seeks out live music, visits the variety of coffee shops in his neighborhood in search of the city’s best vanilla latte, or bonds with friends by cooking, binge-watching Survivor and putting his pop culture knowledge to the test during trivia nights.

  • Photo of Shijing (Laura) Li Shijing (Laura) Li Designer Close
    • Imagination as a Professional Tool

      Shijing is a visionary multidisciplinary designer whose creations breathe life into branding, packaging and publications. Using both physical and digital mediums, including illustrations, animation and programming, she blends the art of design with the power of visual languages, illustrations and poetry. As evidenced in her work on See It to Life and other Blue Daring design elements, and campaigns that include We Will Chicago, Rensa packaging and Toyota, her mission is to conjure immersive experiences that transport audiences to other worlds, where imagination reigns supreme and inspiration knows no bounds.

    • Making Games a Way of Life

      Shijing spends time writing “nonsense poetry,” recording life moments that she shares on her social media platforms, and making artist books in interactive physical forms. A fan of board games, she’s created and self-published two online digital games and currently is developing another. When she’s not thinking about her next poems, visual recordings or games, she is traveling, spending time with friends and taking her dogs Taco and Luna out for fresh adventures and new discoveries. (The Shedd Aquarium is a favorite spot.)

  • Photo of Michelle Hunter Michelle Hunter Consulting Writer + Strategist Close
    • Telling Impactful Stories

      Michelle is driven to collaborate with nonprofit changemakers, bringing her skills in deep listening and writing to help them translate the complexities of their work into powerful stories. A writer and strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience, her love for storytelling extends to amplifying the work of corporate sector clients. Michelle spent nine years at The Chicago Community Trust, where she drove organization-wide strategic planning efforts, and has taught writing at the City Colleges of Chicago. Projects for Blue Daring include telling the story of Chicago Community Loan Fund’s decades-long work, developing Toyota’s D+I Annual Reports and helping our partner promote their high-quality masks at the height of the pandemic.

    • Enjoying Family Time, Neighborhood Perks and Solo Adventures

      Michelle delights in spending time with her family, especially laughing and learning with her two young daughters and snuggling with Skye, her 10-year-old Pitbull/Husky. She savors all that her North Side neighborhood offers — particularly its library, lakefront and delicious bakeries. When not with family or out and about, her favorite pastimes include crocheting and swimming; reading nonfiction, essays and books about writers and writing; and disappearing down endless online rabbit holes to learn more Chicago history.