Latino entrepreneur John Cueva is a pioneer in holographic technology
As a newly minted college graduate, John Cueva’s path as a Latino entrepreneur eschewed the route favored by many of his fellow physics majors, opting for the vagaries of the private sector over the security of grad school.
Years later, as an upstart entrepreneur, he took it upon himself to navigate the labyrinthine world of government procurement, bypassing the vast network of consultants who command hefty fees by shepherding companies through the often-protracted federal contracting process.
Time and again Cueva has chosen the path less traveled, though he’s inclined to ascribe his success to something far more basic.
“You have to be willing to put in the hard work. That’s what it all comes down to,” says Cueva, who today serves as a senior program manager at Gentex Corporation, the high-tech electronics company that acquired his firm Holographic Optics in 2008.
Born in Queens, N.Y., to Ecuadoran immigrants, Cueva’s father was a Latino entrepreneur and established a tennis racquet stringing business serving professional tennis players. John worked for his father growing up and then earned bachelor’s degrees in both physics and mathematics at Staten Island’s Wagner College before making the fateful decision to forgo graduate school and instead accept a position at Farrand Optical of Valhalla, N.Y.
“Physics majors typically go to graduate school to figure out a specialty,” he points out. “It’s a very general field of study at the undergraduate level. Specialization usually comes later. But I decided to get a job, mainly because I had a significant student debt load.”
At Farrand, Cueva began the work that would come to define his career: exploring the limits of holographic optical elements, specifically their military applications as substitutes for conventional optics.
To the extent they are aware of them at all, most people associate holograms with science fiction and the mildly curious visual effects found on credit cards and the like. Cueva’s research at Farrand sought to expand their uses to military aviation – experimental work that would occupy the entirety of his five-year tenure at the company.
As it happens, Farrand offered more than professional opportunities. Established in the 1930s as a maker of precision optics and optical assemblies, the company was run in the mid- to late 1980s by the founder’s son, who had a serious tennis habit.