Juan Cueva, PhD, MBA 19

From scientist to venture capitalist by way of a Berkeley MBA

By Rahul Sampat

You might be tempted to call Juan Cueva, PhD, MBA 19, an accidental venture capitalist, but you’d be wrong. Every step of the neuroscientist’s career path was strategic and intentional, including his decision to attend UC Berkeley.

Passionate about life science, Juan’s interest in business emerged while employed at a biotech startup, where he helped commercialize a new technology for mapping neural circuitry at the nanoscale level. The job involved everything from R&D to web design.

“I’ve always been interested in tech innovations, and pursuing a career in venture capital offered a way to learn quickly about new technologies beyond neuroscience. But I knew it would require more than scientific knowledge. I also needed business, financial, and social skills,” says Juan, a student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA program, who now serves as a senior associate with Applied Ventures in Santa Clara, Calif.

His first move was to apply to the part-time Berkeley MBA program, since it would allow him to continue full-time work. Next, he leveraged his acceptance in the program to secure a corporate development position with Ultragenyx Pharmaceuticals in Novato, Calif.

It was June 2016 and his classes had yet to begin, but his career transition was underway.

Mapping a successful route

Even before enrolling in courses, Juan visited the Haas Career Management Group (CMG) to assess his skills and identify the gaps in his expertise. Counsel from CMG Associate Director Luke Kreinberg helped him shape his course load and offered an unexpected piece of advice.

“I’m an introverted scientist, so the social aspect of the VC sector—networking and relationship building—was the more challenging part for me,” he says. “Luke advised me to take up improvisational acting. I did, and it really made a difference.”

Courses, such as Venture Capital and Private Equity, helped Juan hone his deal analysis techniques. The course also introduced him to a variety of industry practitioners who shared their insights on how to evaluate a startup.

“It made me feel like a better investor. That in-class, in-person interaction with VC practitioners is priceless,” he says.

Juan Cueva, PhD, MBA 19

A risk worth taking

A year into the Berkeley MBA program, Juan found and applied for an internship at Applied Ventures through the Haas job board. He prepared for his interview by studying the company. He researched its team members, the type of investments they made, and their areas of expertise. Then, he went a step further to explore startups that might be good investment candidates for the company.

Following an on-campus talk by Applied Ventures investment director Michael Stewart, PhD, MBA 14, Juan introduced himself and shared his investment ideas with Stewart to “put a face to my name so I wouldn’t be just another application in the pile.”

Applied Ventures offered Juan a summer internship, but accepting it would mean quitting his full-time position with Ultragenyx. The risk was daunting, but he took it, with the support and encouragement of his wife Sarah, a pediatrician.

Once there, he toiled as if he were already a senior associate. Along with his intern duties, he built a side portfolio and a challenging niche for himself: finding investment opportunities that bridge the world of life science and advanced material engineering.

Applied Ventures extended his internship into the fall and, in 2018, hired him as a senior associate. Today, Juan explores potential investments in emerging technologies such as medical imaging and bio-field effect transistors.

“Although I had been strategic, I didn’t think I’d achieve my goal until two or three years after finishing my MBA,” says Juan, who will graduate in June. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, my three children, my classmates, and everyone who believed in me.”

Could an MBA be the missing piece of your success strategy? Explore the possibilities found in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program.

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Posted on March 11, 2019
Themes: MBA Benefits
Rahul Sampat
Rahul was Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2015-2019. He hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience and questions you may have about the MBA in general.