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Supporting Biotech Entrepreneurs: Five Questions with Richard Juelis

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After decades in pharmaceutical finance and, more recently, as an angel investor supporting biotech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area, Richard Juelis, FCRH ’70, has had a front-row seat to the rapid growth and changes in medical technology. He is now witnessing firsthand the focus on COVID-19 treatments and technology in the field.

“We see all of the early, cutting-edge technologies,” says Juelis, a member and co-chair of the life sciences committee at Band of Angels, Silicon Valley’s oldest angel investment group. “In the life science area, particularly now, there’s a lot of redirecting of work towards a COVID cure and diagnostics, as well as digital health technologies that help the hospitals become more efficient and monitor patients at home.”

Juelis cites one of Band of Angels’ portfolio companies that is developing a special respirator used by emergency response crews for whom mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is no longer a viable option due to the spread of the coronavirus. Responders will be able to pump oxygen to people via the device while performing CPR. Based on that technology, Juelis says, the company was quickly able to develop a ventilator system that has been offered to several California hospitals.

“The sciences have continued to develop in all directions,” says Juelis, who majored in chemistry at Fordham before earning his M.B.A. at Columbia and working in finance and operations for both Hoffmann-La Roche and Schering-Plough (now Merck), including stints in Cork, Ireland, and Puerto Rico. “[It] used to be that chemists didn’t really talk to biologists that much. But now all of these disciplines, including computer sciences, have all merged together.”

As an angel investor, Juelis draws on his experiences as a chief financial officer for companies that ultimately developed lifesaving medications. He has also sat on the boards of directors of a number of smaller public companies and tech firms, and he currently serves on the board of El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California, where he is a member of the finance committee.

Juelis says that Fordham helped lay the foundation for his career, and that’s why he has remained a part of the community, helping students experience a global education and connecting them with career opportunities. In 2011, he set up an endowment for the Global Outreach program that allowed Fordham students to travel to northwest Lithuania to work with the Auksuciai Foundation, where he served as a board member, at its farm and forest center, and to travel to other countries in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Romania. Separately, he sponsored two Fordham computer science students with a summer internship in the research division of a public robotics company where he served as a board member. And the former Rams pitcher and team captain is now supporting the University’s baseball program, as well.

“I would always try to talk to the students that wound up getting the scholarships,” Juelis says of his support for Global Outreach. “It was great to hear what their motivations were.”

This year, Juelis was preparing for his 50th Fordham Jubilee when the COVID-19 pandemic put things on hold. He is part of a planning committee for his class and had begun reaching out to some of his classmates, who knew him as “Tucker” from his undergrad days.

“I was beginning to call a lot of my contacts that I’ve seen in the last few years, or maybe not for a long time, just to catch up with everybody and see how they’re doing,” says the Newark, New Jersey, native. He does plan to make the trip to the Bronx next spring, when 2020 Jubilarians will be invited to Rose Hill to celebrate belatedly. But when the Bronx comes to him via baseball, Juelis said he feels conflicted.

“I was a longtime Yankees fan, but being on the West Coast, I root for the Giants and the Oakland A’s [now],” he says. “So when the Yankees come out to play, I always have a hard time deciding who to root for.”

What are you most passionate about?
Three things. First, entrepreneurship. I enjoy meeting with and mentoring Fordham and Columbia student entrepreneurs [through my work at Band of Angels]. And through the Fordham Foundry and other sources, I speak with some of the student entrepreneurs [at Fordham], a couple of whom have wound up here in the Bay Area and I’ve worked with [them]. Second, volunteering. And third, sports. I’m a sports fan, but mostly I like to participate: skiing, golf, hiking, fitness, and now playing catch with the grandsons.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My parents and a couple of high school teachers encouraged me to work hard, take risks, try to succeed in a few different areas, and, of course, attend Fordham.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
I enjoy walking in midtown Manhattan, seeing what’s new, and ending up at Hurley’s Saloon in the Theater District. The 9/11 Memorial is incredible. I was on my way to a meeting at the World Trade Center on that fateful day, so the memorial is particularly meaningful [to me].

Other favorites: San Francisco; Cork, Ireland, where we lived for three years and got to travel throughout Ireland and much of Western Europe; and Vilnius, Lithuania, a fabulous city with my ancestral connections. It’s one of the least known, most beautiful cities in Europe, with a long important history. Their Jesuit high school and cathedral date back over 400 years despite various purges by the Czars, Nazis, and Soviet Russia.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
Several books and letters written about the pre- and post-World War II period in Eastern Europe and Russia. At Fordham in the late ’60s and afterwards, we lived with the overhang of the Communist threat. Until recently, many details about the devastating effects of Soviet socialist domination on the local people in the Soviet Republics, like Lithuania, were little known. I’ve gotten to know several people who were child refugees that fled, on a moment’s notice, when the Soviets took over after World War II. Many of their parents, relatives, and friends wound up in Siberia and were never heard from. Even after the Soviet collapse in 1989, many of the same Russian threats still exist today, most recently in Ukraine.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
Father Robert Cloney, our freshman chemistry professor. First-year chemistry was intimidating enough, but Father Cloney was a very kind, inspiring teacher who always made time after class to help students. The alumnus I most admire was Vince Lombardi, Fordham’s most well-known sports figure and NFL legend. A classic New Yorker and Fordham figure: tough, hard-working, successful.

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