The MX Q&A: QED’s Hiroyuki Fujita

Given the implications, seeing the words “MRI” and “rapid growth” in the same sentence are usually cause for anxiety, if not alarm, for the person reading them. Hiroyuki Fujita can read them with calm satisfaction, however. In just three years, Fujita’s start-up, Quality Electrodynamics (QED), has outgrown its 300-sq-ft room at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and moved to the company’s current 27,000-sq-ft headquarters in suburban Mayfield Village, OH.

John Conroy

February 15, 2010

9 Min Read
The MX Q&A: QED’s Hiroyuki Fujita


Hiroyuki Fujita

Credit QED’s breakthrough technology and Fujita’s management philosophy for the company’s rapid growth. The start-up manufactures a patented detector used in MRI machines made by Toshiba and Siemens. The detector measures atypical water distribution in the patient’s body and creates computer images to depict early-stage cancer and stroke risk, according to the company. The small coil speeds up scanning time, provides crisp images, and reduces the time patients need to spend in noisy MRI machines, the company says.


Fujita says it took between 1 and 1½ years for him and his Case Western colleagues to develop the RF coils and “ultracompact” MRI preamplifier that augments the signal sent by the patient’s body. QED’s innovations led Forbes to select the company as one of 20 firms on the magazine’s Most Promising Companies list in 2009.


QED is in the process of raising $10 million to expand into Asian healthcare markets and develop a new, diversified business line. Fujita invested his own money to seed QED, and he made the early decision to develop the company with grant funding instead of venture capital.


Fujita received a doctorate in physics from Case Western and worked as a staff scientist for Picker International, a manufacturer of MRI and CT scanners. He then managed the R&D department at USA Instruments before becoming director of engineering for GE Healthcare. Fujita patented his detector design in 2005. In 2006, he started Quality Electrodynamics while working as director of imaging physics at Case Western.


MX: I understand you’ve financed your company through grants instead of venture capital funds. How much seed money did you start with?

Hiroyuki Fujita: We started with $500,000. We received the initial support to develop QED from the Wright Center for Biomedical Imaging, which received significant funding from Ohio’s Third Frontier Program. The Third Frontier Program is designed to build world-class research programs, nurture early-stage companies, and foster technology development in Ohio in key sectors, including biomedical.


Why did you take this path to growth, and which organizations provided the


I wanted to grow the business my way based upon my belief. VCs often go for return on investment within a short period of time, and my vision for business is not a short-term one. Following the initial support we received above, we also received funding from Siemens Healthcare and Toshiba Medical Systems Corp. in the form of nonrecurring engineering costs to develop new-generation MRI radiofrequency coil products, as well as grants from the National Institutes of Health and the State of Ohio.


What are the benefits and drawbacks of using grant money?

The benefits are clear. As long as you fulfill the goals you describe in your grant proposal, you are good to continue. The drawbacks are that it often takes a long time to prepare a grant application, apply for it, and await the funding decision. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that you will be awarded the grants you apply for, so it is an unpredictable source of financing.


How much of your own money did you invest in QED?

I invested roughly $200,000.


What did you learn from your previous experiences as a professor, researcher,

staff scientist, and engineering director that helped you when you launched

Quality Electrodynamics?

I learned a great deal from my previous experiences, which helped prepare me to lead QED. My philosophy is “one step at a time.” Everything is a sum of all the steps that have been taken and accumulated. My past experiences provided me with a well-rounded orientation to approach the problems and challenges that face me and have made me what I am today.


You have a doctorate in physics and worked as an engineer. What are the

challenges of adapting your skill set to running a company?

Having a background in physics is helpful because the discipline teaches you to scientifically and methodically approach problems to develop sound solutions. My deep knowledge in physics combined with other previous “real-life” experiences in the industry and my personal belief in doing the right thing as a human being enables me to successfully run this company with my team.


What did you learn at Picker International that you were able to use before

patenting your detector design in 2005?

I was trained as a physicist before joining Picker International as a staff scientist. So I learned a great deal from an engineering and manufacturing perspective at Picker International.


Your customers include direct competitors Toshiba and Siemens. Is it hard to

attract competing firms, and what concerns do these firms have in dealing with

the same supplier?

It’s a fair question. I don’t think it’s difficult to attract competing OEMs since they know that they can trust me and our company. At the end of the day, everything comes down to mutual respect and trust. We strictly protect our customer’s information. For example, we do not share Siemens information with Toshiba and vice versa. This comes down to the trust Siemens and Toshiba have in me as well as QED’s reputation and integrity.


What effect did making the Forbes list of promising companies in 2009 have

for your company?

I knew Forbes was one of the most respected business publications in the world but did not realize how influential it truly is until QED was featured in its pages. Many potential investors and VC firms called us once the Most Promising Companies list was published. Also, I was traveling extensively for QED last October when this issue appeared and saw it in every airport. That really drove home the point of how far Forbes’ reaches and how visible your company becomes if it is featured. Being in Forbes was an effective and influential advertisement for us.


How much time did it take to develop your breakthrough technology?

It took roughly 1 to 1½ years to develop our state-of-the-art high-channel-count MRI RF coils and the ultracompact MRI preamplifier that amplifies the signal received from the patient body. Additionally, we had to officially qualify our company as a medical device manufacturer with ISO 13485, FDA, and Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) in our startup stage before we were able to sell and distribute our products. For the first 1½ years, we were intensely focused not only product development but also obtaining the necessary registrations and approvals to conduct business globally. These certifications are also required to do business with our key customers.


What was the most difficult aspect of developing the detector technology?

The number of components in our product can range from 200 to 2000, and all of them must work correctly for our product to function properly. On top of that, we have to be able to make thousands of products consistently from one unit to the next, making sure they are safe to the best of our knowledge and comply with all appropriate standards and regulations such as FDA, CE, and MHLW. Thus, the most difficult aspect of developing the detector technology is to develop the product in a year or so while meeting the highest device performance criteria and assuring the best patient safety and cost performance.


What was the germ of the idea for the technology?

The entire MRI industry was seeing the trend of increasing the number of receiver channels on the MRI scanner to accelerate the scan time. As a result, we developed our higher-channel-count MRI RF coils to support the industry trend and enable the emerging technologies.


So, just how much faster is the scan time than in a traditional MRI process?

By designing a high-channel-count MRI RF coil, one can improve the temporal resolution in MRI. For example, our 15-Channel Knee Coil for Siemens Healthcare can reduce the scan time by more than 50% compared with a traditional knee coil.


How did QED grow so quickly, particularly in this economy? What are the

benefits and drawbacks of growing fast in three years?

I believe that all good companies that are destined to be successful in the future will grow very quickly in the first three years or so because they are energetic, have solid product ideas, and have committed customers. Our partnerships with Siemens and Toshiba led to ongoing, critical projects that maximize our resources. As a result, we were able to add necessary expertise and resources in this tough economy.


What I often share with my colleagues at QED is that a company must grow with structure, or it will be out of control. This “structure” to me is the philosophy of the company. As our team has worked to build QED, I always emphasize the importance of ethical leadership, that is, “doing the right thing as a human being.” My role model is Kazuo Inamori, founder of Kyocera Corp. and KDDI in Japan. The values of ethical leadership, and Mr. Inamori’s example of leadership as well as his entrepreneurial achievements and commitment to society, serve as an inspiration to us all as we continue to build QED.

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