Alex Gillis - Executive Director, Catalyst

Alex Gillis

Executive Director, Catalyst

I was born/grew up in: Toronto, Ontario; Grew up in: Halifax, Nova Scotia

I now live in: Vancouver, British Columbia

I completed my training/education at: University of British Columbia (Commerce 2020) at the Sauder School of Business

Describe what you do at work.

I describe my role as a connector. Everyday I spend at least three hours making new connections or introducing others to my existing connections. The concept of connection is profoundly important to any career, in any field, as it is the people behind the big brands names that actually make things happen. I am constantly working to learn new skills and have a passion for graphic design and programming. As Catalyst is a relatively small organization, led entirely by students, it's not uncommon to see me coding our website or proofreading submissions to the Catalyst Community.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

My work with Catalyst is helping to build connections between the people and organizations who can most benefit from them. 1. Catalyst provides community initiatives with qualified volunteers with the skills they need to thrive. 2. Catalyst offers meaningful volunteer opportunities to students who are looking to give back and use the skills they've gained through their education to help support their community. 3. Catalyst pairs corporate partners who are looking to donate to specific causes with deserving community initiatives who are seeking support, funding and mentorship.

What motivates you in your career?

The fields of business and technology are ever-changing which makes it very fast-paced but exciting to be on the entrepreneurial leading-edge. Working on technology-based startups since age 15, I've had the opportunity to be a leader in different technological verticals, as well as for youth in my community. My aspirations for Catalyst, a passionate community of volunteers, local initiatives, and corporate partners shaping the future of Canada, today, have built out of an earlier vision for a successful youth program in Halifax, called Hoist. I founded Hoist alongside my business partner and our local startup incubator, Volta Labs, in March 2015 to offer youth aged 10 to 20 free monthly workshops in the areas of business, technology, and design.

As a entrepreneur and connector, I have always made it my priority to connect other like-minded individuals through communities such as Catalyst and Hoist- you never know where opportunities may arise!

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I owe my success to my Mother, an independent mother from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Seeing her go through medical school as a kid, I was very aware of the dedication she put into her studies and work, a commitment I've always aspired to. Her open-minded approach to supporting me throughout my entrepreneurial career has been a blessing. You aren't allowed to open a company before the age of 19 in Nova Scotia. When I was 15, my mother supported me in starting my first formal business. She became a director of the company and also my closest business partner.

My high school principal, and teachers, were also accepting of my choice to pursue an entrepreneurial path. I worked with my school to create an "experiential learning" course that enabled me, and a handful of my classmates, to pursue productive interests outside of the classroom such as entrepreneurship and automotive engineering in exchange for university-recognized high school credit.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

Since I was 10 years old, I have always enjoyed sailing on the open water. This is something I have now continued from the East Coast to the West Coast as I have recently been recruited to the University of British Columbia's Thunderbirds Sailing Team.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

My one piece of advice for any young person looking to get started in entrepreneurship is that you're never too young to start. You'll never have so much free time to devote to pursuing your ideas as you do today so stop reading this and start building.

Let’s Talk Science recognizes and thanks Alex Gillis for his contribution to Canada 2067.

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