Doug B. Juanarena
Class of 1975, BS
When Doug Juanarena enrolled at Virginia Tech as a freshman in 1971, he had already lived in eight states and two foreign countries. “I was more mature than the average freshman, and my international experiences helped me a lot,” the electrical engineering graduate said.
His father’s occupation, a fighter pilot, accounted for the family’s globe-trotting. Ironically, despite all of the various cultural memories provided to Doug as a young man growing up, one of his most vivid was from about the age of 15. His father brought the family on a vacation back to his hometown in California, some 25 years after he joined the military. As they walked down the street together, Doug recalled people acknowledging his dad as if he had never left. “For me, it was an ‘aha’ moment,” Juanarena acknowledged.
That impressionable experience of his father being a “hometown celebrity” helps to account for why, when Doug retired very early in his career, before he turned 50, he hurried on “home” to Blacksburg, Virginia. The successful entrepreneur had already sold his first two companies.
Today, he is busier than ever, working as an angel investor, serving as vice-president of the Blacksburg office of Rackspace Hosting, Inc., and acting as a board member of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center since 2002, to name just a few of his activities.
It didn’t bother Juanarena that the sleepy Blacksburg of the 1970s was a bit different from the thriving university town it has become. Back in 1971, when Juanarena enrolled in electrical engineering, he was almost tunnel visioned in his pursuit of a degree.
He had “tinkered” with electricity since second grade, he recalled, and won the 1968 Virginia state science fair when he was in tenth grade. His project was the design and fabrication of a digital computer, which he built from start to finish. Putting Juanarena’s efforts in historical context, his computer was developed very close to when Jack Kilby, who built the first integrated circuit, won the 1970 National Medal of Science.
Shortly after Juanarena’s arrival at Virginia Tech, Wayne Bennett, a member of the faculty, took notice of his intellect and offered him a part-time position in a lab as a technician wiring computers. Juanarena jumped at the opportunity since the young inventor was earning his spending money scrubbing dishes 20 hours a week at the Shultz Dining Hall.
By his junior year, Juanarena secured a summer internship at NASA Langley’s Instrument Research Division. In this three-month job, before he even graduated from Virginia Tech, he developed a Machmeter – an instrument for a wind tunnel that shows the ratio of the true airspeed of an aircraft to the speed of sound. This Machmeter remained in use at NASA until the late 1980s, and was one of about five projects Juanarena worked on that summer at the federal space agency.
When the time came for his college graduation, Bennett hoped to persuade Juanarena to stay on for graduate school, a tempting offer for the young man who had also become president of his fraternity, Sigma Pi.
But NASA offered him an “extremely creative” position in its measurement physics branch that was “full of smart people. I was in hog heaven,” he smiled.
Within three years of his NASA employment, he had his next rather stunning achievement as the lead engineer on the development of the electronic pressure scanner. It revolutionized wind tunnel measurements and requests for NASA to provide copies grew. Since NASA is not in the manufacturing business, the federal agency actually encouraged him to leave and start his own business, licensing this technology. After a lot of internal bickering with himself about the fun he was having at NASA versus setting out on an uncharted territory with no classroom business skills to his name, Juanarena started Pressure Systems, Inc., (PSI) in Hampton, Virginia. It was 1978, only three years after he received his Virginia Tech diploma.
Long story short – the pressure scanner became a world standard for wind tunnel, propulsion, and flight testing. And along the way, Juanarena educated himself on how to visit banks and raise money for his company, how to demonstrate traction to his financial backers, and how to sell his product. At 25, he started hitting on the right techniques, pulling in contracts with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Airbus, and other similar companies. “I had the right technology at the right time,” he explained simply.
That “time” was the end of the Cold War complicated by the doubling of the cost of energy. When President Reagan ceased the Cold War, his strategy was to build up the nation’s defense, creating a major uptick in the aeronautical industry. Entering the picture is Juanarena with his pressure scanner demonstrating much needed improved aviation efficiency. His success in this niche soon attracted automotive companies that were also seeking greater fuel savings, and they too adopted Juanarena’s technology.
Pressure Systems, Inc., also benefitted from the arrival of coinciding timely technologies. Microelectromechanical systems or MEMS sensors, the continued development of the microprocessor and its application in computer numerical controlled machining, were now allowing manufacturing repetition at a low price.
“Was I good? No. Was I lucky? Yes,” Juanarena smiled. Juanarena’s 20s, 30s, and 40s would be considered a calendar nightmare to many. A little more than two years after his graduation, he married Sue in December of 1977. He quit his position with NASA six months later in June of 1978, the same time he was getting PSI off the ground. He and Sue started having their three children, Carmen, Brian, and Greg. He was continually traveling on behalf of the company, and he started a second company, Keller- PSI, Inc., in 1986.
By the time his daughter was 13, he said he decided “to get off the treadmill,” selling PSI in 1996 to Britain’s Roxboro Group PLC. However he did stay on as its CEO until 2000. He also sold Keller-PSI, a company he was also CEO of from its inception in 1986 until 1999 to a Swiss entity.
By that time, Juanarena had already reconnected with his alma mater in numerous ways. Paul Torgersen, deanof Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering from 1970 until 1990, had met and recruited Juanarena to serve on the College Advisory Board in the 1980s, and later the ECE Advisory Board asked him to join in the 1990s. Juanarena had mentored some of the University’s ECE faculty in their efforts at entrepreneurship. And he recalled that “aha” moment when he walked down the California street with his father, and he was not an anonymous figure. Returning to Blacksburg in 2000 was, in many ways, like going home for the underage “retired” man. He did not stay retired long.
He soon joined one of the spin-off companies from the ECE faculty and acted as a co-founder, president, and chief executive officer of Luna Technologies, designing and building instrumentation for measuring dispersion in high bandwidth fiber optic components until 2002. Simultaneously, he served as vice chairman, board member, and director of business development for Luna Innovations until 2005.
In 2005, he started GenTek Ventures, LLC, assisting technology companies with strategic planning, raising of equity capital, and enterprise development. As an angel investor and adviser, Juanarena has mentored a number of start-up companies through GenTek including another ECE spin-off, Panaphase. A second firm he worked with was Webmail.us, led by Pat Mathews, now a part of Rackspace Hosting, a complete cloud platform for building websites and applications.
His relationship grew with Mathews, now senior vice president of corporate development, and in 2010 Juanarena was named vice-president and site leader of Rackspace Hosting in Blacksburg. Within two years, Juanarena grew this company location to more than 120 employees. Rackspace advertises itself as the leading specialist in its field, and its Blacksburg office is the company’s second largest software development center. The company’s San Antonio headquarters ranks first
He still runs GenTek, making it seem as he now has two day jobs, Juanarena quipped.
With yet another success on his resume, Juanarena imparts his vast entrepreneurial knowledge twice a year to Virginia Tech engineering students in Paul Torgersen’s Theory of Organization class for juniors and seniors. He speaks about “Starting a Technology Business.”
And he is active in the community, serving as chair of the Blacksburg Partnership from 2008 until 2010. The Blacksburg Partnership is a non-profit, independent economic development organization formed by the town, business, and university communities. Its purpose is to bolster the vitality of Blacksburg through projects that attract visitors and retail prospects.
So the boy who never had a real home growing up can now walk down the streets of Blacksburg as his father did in California, and feel like a strong part of a thriving community. Some of his other civic involvements have included: Board of Directors of the Virginia Air and Space Museum, 1995 – 2000; Department of Physics Advisory Board, Christopher Newport University, 1985 – 2000; and Board of Directors, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, 1999 – 2001.
Class of: 1975
Year Inducted into Academy: 2013