Catalyst: The source for open-source consulting

logo of the company called catalystCanada is Catalyst’s fourth home — the open-source consulting company was founded in New Zealand, then added operations in Australia and later the U.K. and in 2020, it established a presence in Ottawa.  

The company was launched 22 years ago by a group of individuals whose mission was to make open-source software the choice of governments. It set up shop in Australia about 12 years ago and now has offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. The U.K. office, founded in Brighton nine years ago, has served as the company’s European headquarters.  

In all, Catalyst has 400 team members globally.  

 A software-as-a-service company, it specializes in cloud-computing consulting. Many of its customers are working in open-source systems, but need support and often customization on them. Most are either universities, which are pivoting to online teaching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or governments.  

 Chief operating officer Matt Porritt, whose title is “solutions architect,” says the company has developed some values from its open-source mantra.  

“We try to conduct business in an open and honest way,” Porritt says. “When we’re setting up in Canada — we’re investing in the Canadian economy. Similarly, we’re not mining the Australian economy and then sending it back to New Zealand.”  

He says all of Catalyst’s growth in Canada has been organic. “We’ve been working in Canada and the U.S. for the last couple of years, for different organizations. With on-the-ground operations based in Ottawa, we plan to expand across the continent.”   

Currently, the Canadian operation is small, with just eight employees, mostly in Montreal, but there’s also a team member working in British Columbia. Porritt is stuck in Australia because of COVID rules so the company has been working to fill a leadership position in Ottawa to help him manage from afar.  

“Our commitment to Canada as a company hasn’t changed,” Porritt says. “But some timelines have had to shift due to the pandemic.”  

Why Ottawa? 

Once Catalyst’s principals settled on the idea of setting up their North American hub in Canada, they had to decide where to do so within this vast land. The company has worked for clients in most of the larger provinces so it considered Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.  

“We staked out and toured all of them,” says Porritt. “The last trip we took, my wife came. Part of it was finding a place that would work for business, but the other part was finding a place we wanted to live in.”  

They knew Ottawa was a good place for their business to set up — as the seat of the federal government and a city with three universities, it justified itself on those points alone, especially as it’s a nice distance between two of the other cities they considered, namely Montreal and Toronto.  

“We liked Ottawa as a city,” Porritt says. “We drove around suburbs and parts of all of the cities we visited and asked ourselves ‘Would we live here?’ In Ottawa, it was a ‘yes.’”  

Affordability played into the decision, in terms of cost of living, office space and staffing costs.  

He said Canada is attractive to Australians because it has a similar population size, GDPs are similar and there’s lots of higher education. Geographically, he says, it “has a familiar feel.”  

Attracting talent 

Attracting good employees is always a challenge in the field of technology, but initial market research told Catalyst’s team that Ottawa and its surrounding areas could provide what they need.  

The tech ecosystem in the city was an added bonus, Porritt says.  

“We’re a tech company, but we’re not a tech company in the same way as a startup,” he says. “We deal with education and government, so that ecosystem is more important than having other tech companies nearby. Because we’re a global company already, we have a support network built in. It would be a different case setting up a new tech company. That said, you do want some critical mass and Ottawa provides that, too.”  

Catalyst at a glance 

Employees: 400 globally 

Years in business: 22 years 

Customers: Universities and governments 

Clients on how many continents: 6 

Main product/service: Software-as-a-service and open-source consulting 

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