Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday that Dennis and I were at a Penn Station on our lunch hour trying to decide if we really should try to start our own business. The company we were working for was going down the tubes and opportunity seemed to be knocking the door down. But, it was still one of the scariest decisions I had ever faced. My kids were 2, 4, and 6 years old and Dennis’ wife was pregnant with their first child. We were both the primary earners for our families with mortgages, car payments, etc. Neither of us had ever started a company before, but we had a business plan that we knew would work: Rapid full service product design and development. We wanted to offer complete concept through production services all under one roof, or “From Mind to Market”.
But, right out of the gate we struggled with just picking a name and considered things like Paradigm, Synergy, and Widget (I am really glad we didn’t pick that one…). You might not think naming a new company would be that difficult, but it was sort of like naming a new baby—it was a name it was going to have to grow up with and we didn’t want the other companies making fun of it. Our mission was to help clients speed products to market and the name “Catalyst” somehow seemed the perfect fit. We had an attorney draft a corporate charter and suddenly we were in business. All we needed were financing, employees, office space, equipment, vendors, and clients… piece of cake.
In March of 1999, we officially started operations at Catalyst in a small 900 sq.ft. house southwest of Indianapolis with two industrial designers, two engineers, and two seats of ProEngineer software. In May, we hired two mold makers. In June, we signed a lease on a 12,000 sq. ft. space and I can still remember standing in that hangar-like building thinking “we will never fill this up” (three years later we were bursting at the seams). And, in July we bought our first two CNC machining centers, knee mills, and EDM. Not only were we now in business, we were now in debt.
In late 1999, we formalized our 6-D Methodology for product development which included the “Catalyst Rapid Ideation” process for brainstorming sessions. We envisioned the original business model as being predominantly a design center with downstream development services of prototyping, tooling, molding, and assembly existing just to support design services. But, in early 2000, we released a proprietary quick-turn injection molding process called STAT (Sample Time Acceleration Technology) which allowed us to produce plastic parts in a matter of days, rather than months. This industry-changing process wowed the market and our rapid tooling/short-run molding area took on a life of its own. In 2002, we introduced SPRInT (Short-run Production Rapid Insert Tooling), a short lead time tooling process for higher part quantities, and began expanding into full production injection molding and short-run assembly.
There have been many banner moments in the past 15 years: Like our first profitable month and breaking the $1 million mark in sales. I remember our first trade show where we did not have a clue what we were doing and showed up with two banquet tables, a poster and some product samples. The day our first molding press arrived was a great day. Up to that point, we had been renting press time in the middle of the night at a production molding facility and had to lug material and injection molds across town every day. And, it was a good day when we brought in our first rapid prototyping machine for design verification back in 2006. The year we sponsored Sarah Fisher’s Indy 500 race team was very cool and generated a lot of excitement. The day we moved into our current 30,000 sq.ft. facility was a fantastic day (very chaotic, but very exciting)—we finally had enough space, power, lighting…and restrooms.
In 2003, we were named to the top “25 Companies to Watch” list and have been an Indiana Growth 100 recipient three times. Most recently, Catalyst was named in the Top 100 Places to Work in Indiana—an incredible honor.
And, while it has been a great ride so far, I will admit it has not always been roses and chocolates. I remember a point soon after we started when our cash balance hit $273.17 (a number branded in my memory) and that was all we had. But then, a huge project from Hewlett-Packard literally fell into our laps and it was the ‘catalyst’ we needed. And, there have been the many challenges associated with growing a company–the “good problems” to have. Such as making the transition from a start-up where everyone wore many hats to one where there are defined roles and procedures, or implementing an MRP system that required work orders and inventory control, or hiring a branding company to make sure the company fonts, colors, and logos matched on everything, or just trying to keep up with technological advances and stay on the cutting edge with the services we offer.
Oh sure, there are probably a number of decisions I would have made differently over the years, but I don’t really regret any of them. The exciting moments far exceed the challenging ones by a huge margin.
One of the most fulfilling experiences has been watching how our team of associates, many of whom have been with us since the beginning, has grown each year (both professionally and in number). In fact, they are really running the company now with little involvement from Dennis or me. If I had to pat myself on the back for anything at Catalyst, it is in bringing together this fantastic group of people who really make the magic happen.
But, the growth and success we have had over the years would simply have not been possible without the support of some of the best customers in the world. I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most intelligent, creative people working in American business today. When I think back to all of the clients we have worked with and the thousands of projects we have worked on, I can’t help but smile. Many of our customers have been with us since our start-up and I have never ceased to be amazed at the innovation and technology they often ask us to work with.
Someone asked me recently what is it that keeps me passionate about what we do at Catalyst? If I had to pick one thing that always excites me–and this is as true today as it was 15 years ago—it is when I see a product out in the marketplace that we developed. Most consumers do not realize the effort it takes to bring even a simple product to market and watching a concept evolve from a basic sketch to a finished product is an amazing experience. Seeing a product in a store or on the internet and being able to say “we worked on that” is still one of the best feelings in the world, every time.
I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to all our customers, associates, vendors, and strategic partners who have made the past 15 years at Catalyst possible.