these are our founders Theodoor Rutgers and Jalal Es-Sbai
these are our founders Theodoor Rutgers and Jalal Es-Sbai
Our Catalyze journey began more than 10 years ago. During a finance lecture as part of our master program in Management and Entrepreneurship in Health and Life Science at the VU university in Amsterdam, we met Peter Schoevers. We connected with him which led to both of us starting an internship at his company, Drug Discovery Factory, a holding company focused on setting up and investing in early-stage biotech/life science spin-offs. Although biotech entrepreneurs face many challenges, we quickly realized all of these companies face the common challenge of being in urgent need of funding to realize their dream. This all while competing for limited funding resources. Triggered by our drive for competitiveness and to win, we directly realized this is where we wanted to make a difference. Also, we felt researchers and entrepreneurs should deserve a chance to become successful, which still drives us until this day. And if we can contribute to this cause? That is probably one of the most fulfilling purposes you can find.
So that is when we began working with no experience in writing proposals for researchers and SMEs. A few months later, the result of the first proposal ever submitted came in. We remember sitting in the office when Jalal received the email. Jalal screamed through the office “Guys, guys, we are number one!” Was this for real? Yes, the proposal was ranked number one. Soon many proposals would follow, all being ranked at the top of the lists and leaving many amazed. The success of our early work led to us founding Catalyze. Today, we look back on that time; we felt something in what we were doing, we knew we were onto something special and most of all we knew we had to go for it. If we can realize this for the first 10 projects, we can really make an impact and difference by doing this for innovations all over the world.
We realized, to make a larger impact for more projects and clients, we needed a team, we needed to grow – we cannot do this on our own. We were only 23 years old, with no experience in building companies. We had to go with the flow and keep it simple: get excellent projects in, write excellent applications, and make sure to win them… and never forget to celebrate! Together, we found a true purpose: to work hard to help our clients, so that they can make their positive impact on the world. Today, this purpose remains embedded in the very DNA of Catalyze and continues to be the biggest motivation and driver of our growth as a company.
Initially we had great success together in the Netherlands, but soon after starting Theodoor moved to Orlando, Florida for 5 years to chase an American dream. What came next was unexpected. Divided between the Netherlands and the US, we had stumbled upon a winning business model. We had a unique edge: we were in two time-zones and could work 24/7. Year round, our clients always came first, and they loved it! Every month, we had business trips between the US and the Netherlands. While waiting at the airport, a 23-year-old Theodoor would always call ahead, to make sure the beers were ready for his arrival. We were both full of excitement for these trips, which we spent working hard and celebrating our success. We still remember everything like yesterday, one moment we would drive down to have a late night at tropical Ocean’s Drive in Miami Beach, while the next morning at 5am you are wrapping up a proposal at the local Starbucks or hotel lobby. Or we were working late together on a proposal when Jalal mentioned how tired he was. Theodoor carried on working for some time before noticing how quiet it was. “Where is Jalal?” He went into the other room to find Jalal laying asleep on the office carpet. It was 4am.
Our clients were amazed; they would wake up in the morning in the Netherlands and their mailbox would be full of documents, because Theodoor had worked through the night in the US. Sometimes the speed at which we worked even annoyed our clients! It was a strange experience for Theodoor, working in a different time zone. At some point it felt like there was radio silence: the day in Europe was over, and he was in his own virtual time zone where he worked totally undisturbed, because everyone was sleeping. It was like being in a twilight zone. These early years of Catalyze were very heavy for us, but we always had each other’s back. If on occasion, some trouble arose with clients, or if we did not understand something, we were there to support each other. If Jalal had a critical call, Theodoor would wake up in the middle of the night. We always believed in each idea and strived to make it into a good, feasible project. And besides the fun years, we never forgot to always strive for the highest quality, go the extra mile for clients, and always, truly always go for the win, no matter how hard it seems.
Today, Catalyze continues its growth at an award-winning rate. We now exist as something greater than a grant consultancy company. While our support to academics and entrepreneurs seeking funding remains central to our purpose at Catalyze, our dedication to increasing the impact of our clients’ work has pushed us to further diversify our service offering, leading us to expand towards strategic & business consulting, and the equity and VC fields. Thus, we have begun to fulfil an even greater purpose, as a life science consultancy company.
In addition, fueled by our drive to have a positive and lasting impact on this planet, we decided to further intensify our efforts towards the agri-, food, and bioeconomy sectors, which have grown at an exceptional rate in recent years. This to help progress sustainable development initiatives globally, especially considering the huge global challenges in developing technologies that can help to feed a growing world population, while at the same time, minimizing the ecological footprint. Yes, as human society we are truly facing serious problems both in the area of healthcare and feeding the world.
“Our company growth is not driven just by wanting to grow our company, but by our intrinsic drive in wanting to help clients at a larger scale. So, the more clients we can help the bigger the impact, right? And no, we will never stop trying to make a difference.”
Ultimately, our ambitious plans to expand our footprint and impact translates into broader opportunities for our employees, now, and in the future – as we expect to hire more diverse expertise moving forward. We now have over 100 employees across our company and aim to continue this growth at an exponential rate. Of course, today (January 2021), we live in the exceptional circumstances of a pandemic. Yet, Catalyze has continued to flourish over the past year, thanks to our entrepreneurial, flexible attitude. Although our way of working has changed (with home office the current norm), our clients’ needs have not. We have stayed positive and achieved record-breaking success, thanks to the strong trust of our new and ever-returning clients. At the end of 2020, we were awarded the prestigious FD Gazelle award by The Financial Times (NL), in recognition of our position as one of the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands.
The future we envision for Catalyze is to become the known brand and company in life science consultancy, while further increasing our work in the agri- food and bioeconomy. This means growing in number of clients, number of employees, revenues and geographical locations. We would like to emphasis that our progress up to this point is really only just the beginning. Over the next years, we will work towards reaching our potential and continuing to develop Catalyze as a company with excellent career opportunities for our employees. As we continue this journey, there is one thing we will not forget: vital to our lasting success, has been the value we place on celebrating each and every achievement along the way. It is with this supportive, team-minded mentality that we continue to reach and exceed our goals. The ultimate aim? Our dream? It is endless, working with top innovators all over the world. Catalyze will continue in its pursuit to leave a lasting impact on this planet. Get funding, make impact. And we will fight for this, no matter the challenge, because we are in it to win it!