Hicham Shatou, CEO of LeQuest: Building a successful medtech scale-up with diversity at its heart
If you were to describe Hicham Shatou, CEO of medtech scale-up LeQuest, in just a few words, it would probably sound like: A man on a mission to improve healthcare. Originally from Djibouti, in East Africa, but having lived in more than five different countries before coming to the Netherlands, Hicham was raised with a number of cultures around him. And as the son of a diplomat, he never really thought much about entrepreneurship.
“Even as I went to study Civil Engineering at the TU Delft, I thought I would end up being a consultant somewhere. I speak five languages and have a technical background, so I figured that would be my path.”
Yet, things didn’t quite turn out like that.Today, Hicham is an entrepreneur, investor with medtech fund Blue Sparrows and advisor to a number of medtech startups. He is the CEO of one of the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands, manages a busy agenda and is the father of three, whom he already encourages to become entrepreneurs.
Empowering healthcare professionals to better use their tools
The beginnings of LeQuest came about as a result of Hicham’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. Back in 2009, he co-founded a startup called Icy Solutions, developing an innovative body cooling technology. It was initially aimed at athletes to help them cool down after practice. The interest in the solution was almost immediate, with their launching customer being the Sparta Football Club in Rotterdam. But it didn’t stop there.
“At one point, we were approached by a professor at the university hospital of Leiden to develop a machine that could cool down cancer patients,” Hicham remembers. “This is how I got in touch with the healthcare industry to later found LeQuest.” It has already been a decade since LeQuest came into existence with the mission to improve healthcare. In essence, the company provides interactive simulation-based trainings for medical staff to learn how to use and leverage medical technology.
“We focus on the end user, the healthcare professional,” Hicham says. “We focus on the ones dedicating their lives to help strangers, ensuring that they become more confident in using their tools. When COVID-19 hit, we provided hospitals with our trainings for ICU medical equipment for free. Within a couple of weeks, we trained more than a thousand ICU nurses to use their equipment.”
The positive feedback they received from professionals across the world, including Italy, Spain and all the way in Australia is what confirmed to Hicham and his team that they were doing the right thing. “It has been humbling,” he says simply.
Building the dream team - multicultural, diverse and driven
Having moved so much around the world as a child, Hicham has learned to embrace different cultures and find the right way to communicate within each of them. This has been a key skill for him as an entrepreneur but even more so as someone who runs a fast-growing company.
With 55 employees from 60 nationalities and a 50/50 male to female ratio, LeQuest is a company that many can learn from. “One of my mentors once told me that you should set up your organization based on your vision of the world. In my view, multicultural, multidisciplinary and diverse teams achieve better results. So for every man, we hired a woman. For every Dutch speaker, we hired a non-Dutch speaker. We made that part of our HR policy, too."
Hicham’s commitment to bringing the right people together shows also in the way he approaches investors. “It is important to understand that investors are more than just money. You also need to have a cultural and vision fit.” And he seems to have found that fit, because in 10 years, LeQuest has raised a total of 18 million euros.
Fundraising has got to be one of the hardest things about entrepreneurship, Hicham says, and so is sticking to your vision. A decade is a long time and companies are bound to change. The people change, too. Understanding that has been invaluable for Hicham as it has helped him steer LeQuest in the right direction.
“Pitching our vision and selling to customers is where my affinity lies.” He loves his role of CEO to build an organization, but also loves telling its story and conveying the right message to the right people.
“Being a medtech entrepreneur you need patience and persistence,” Hicham says. “And most of all, you need to always listen to your customers.”