CEO of Quality Electrodynamics sees teamwork as key to tech start-ups success

When you turn a start-up medical device company into a $12 million international competitor in just four years, people start talking. Hiroyuki Fujita expected it.

But that doesn’t mean he’s comfortable with the attention.

On Thursday, Fujita plans to talk to members of the International Entrepreneur organization at BioEnterprise, an initiative to expand health-care companies and commercialize bioscience technology. Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs and guests will hear about his success at Quality Electrodynamics, which makes detectors used in magnetic resonance imaging machines.

As of Tuesday, Fujita hadn’t written a word. But he knows what people want to hear.

In the last year alone, Gov. Ted Strickland visited his new 27,000-square-foot facility twice. Forbes ranked QED No. 11 among the nation’s top 20 most promising companies. And if you add up all of his international travel, his family and 60 employees can testify that he’s four months visiting customers and prospects.

It’s part of Fujita’s larger plan to turn his Mayfield start-up into a global powerhouse in a few decades.

“Nothing happens by chance,” said Fujita, 43. “You have to make it by determination. You have to have the know-how of something you want to do well, then have a clear mindset of how you’re going to achieve it.”

Already, QED’s customers include Toshiba Medical Systems and Siemens Healthcare, Germany.

If you ask Fujita about his success, he’ll turn attention away from himself. He’d rather talk about a supportive Ohio business community, which includes Case Western Reserve University, where he completed his doctorate in physics in 1998 and later started his company in a 300-square-foot room while working at Case’s Department of Physics in a newly created position as director of imaging.

Baiju Shah, president of BioEnterprise, said it’s unusual for a medical technology company to be profitable and have 60 employees in such a short period of time.

“We see a lot of companies that, five years into their formation, either just began getting sales or they’re still in the process of getting cleared” by the Food and Drug Administration, he said.

“The other thing that makes him unusual is that most technology companies requires substantial venture funding,” Shah said. “He’s done it through strategic partnerships and relationships and a lot of sweat.”

Funding of $1.59 million came from state and industry partners, including a $350,00 grant fromThird Frontier’s Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center.

Years before Fujita decided to become an entrepreneur, he was paying dues learning about medical technology, competition and the importance of building global relationships. His positions included professor and researcher at Case and staff scientist at Picker International. As director of engineering at GE Healthcare, he grew accustomed to using technology at all hours to communicate with colleagues in Japan and Europe.

“I worked so hard at GE that my wife said, you’re probably going to die young,” he said.

Fujita prefers talking about employees and the culture of teamwork he works hard at cultivating. Employees work in an open environment with no partitions or cubicles. And every chance he gets, Fujita tries to remind employees of their value and share company milestones with everyone from hourly employees to engineers.’

“An open environment is key to the company remaining agile and responsive to our customer needs,” said John Schellenberg, general manager of operations. “When we’re not designing and building, we invest considerable time communicating with our customers and visiting key clinical sites.”

Schellenberg is one of about 25 people hired in the last year and a half. Most were in between jobs when they were hired at QED, a company with no bank debt or investors.

“As long as they had technical capabilities, ethics and integrity, I hired them,” Fujita said.

A quick look into Fujita’s office gives a glimpse at how he’s working to build a major firm. Seven rolodexes line his desk, all filled with contacts he’s made in the last four years. A photo of him and Steve Forbes followed a four-month process of filling out paperwork to claim a spot on Forbes’ coveted top 20 list. Fujita speculates that his spot on the list led directly to another photo, an invitation to the Japanese emperor’s birthday reception.

For inspiration, he looks to a photo of him and his 79-year-old role model, Kazuo Inamori, founder of Kyocera Corp. and KDDI of Japan, who helped shape his company’s philosophy. Fujita’s goal is to embrace similar values of keeping a balance of scientific progress while “pursuing what’s right for humankind.”

“If awards and acknowledgements or high revenues make me special, then I’m already failing the test. I want to be a good human being,” he said. “My dream is that when I become 80, our efforts at QED will have a positive impact on society to help other people.”

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