When William “Call-me-Bill” N. Starling (BSBA ’75) takes a commitment to heart, the world changes for the better. As a medical-technology serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist, his passion is the business of saving lives and improving health care. His 34-year career focuses on developing innovative technologies in life sciences, particularly heart disease therapeutics.
Starling is CEO of Synecor and managing director of Synergy Life Science Partners. His companies’ investments exceed $225 million. He co-founded 10 companies whose annual revenue exceeds $3 billion, and he expects to spin out another four firms by 2014.
“The FDA is killing our industry by constantly moving the goal posts, and raising venture capital has never been more difficult,” Starling said. “But the opportunities to work with some of the most advanced medical minds in creating cutting-edge technology challenge and inspire me.”
After acquiring an MBA from the University of Southern California, Starling began his career as a heart-valve salesman for a Baxter spinout, Edwards LifeSciences. Marketing and communications came naturally to him, he said. “I wasn’t a medical technology whiz kid. The successful medical-device CEOs I know learned to sell to customers, understand their needs and solve their problems. The key to creating successful partnerships, I believe, is blending experts with diverse skill sets: marketing, technical and clinical.”
Corner-officed at Synergy’s Portola (Silicon) Valley headquarters, Starling spends three months a year close to campus at Synecor’s RTP office. His exuberance for UNC rivals Franklin Street frenzy after Carolina beats Duke. He serves on the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s board of visitors and the boards of visitors for the McAllister Heart Institute and the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. He chairs UNC Kenan-Flagler’s board of visitors, where he plays a significant role as goodwill ambassador, especially on the West Coast. His entrepreneurism lectures for UNC Kenan-Flagler students pack the room. In 2006, he received
UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Alumni Merit Award, and in 2008, he delivered the MBA commencement address.
Starling created the full-ride Starling Life Science MBA Fellowship to motivate medical-biotech students to choose UNC Kenan-Flagler. He tells recruits, “I’ll be happy to mentor you at Chapel Hill and afterward introduce you to my CEO contacts for internships and career possibilities, while personally teaching you about entrepreneurism and venture capitalism.”
Advising UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp’s Innovation Circle, Starling strives for medical-business school collaborations by “inviting the right folks in business and medical-biotech to join forces, create effective technologies and apply best business practices.”
“UNC Kenan-Flagler has a culture of developing business leaders by sharing knowledge and networks,” he said. “The faculty is unparalleled in teaching quality, expertise and enthusiasm. These attributes are strikingly similar to those at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. They give us dramatic advantages over peer MBA schools’ competitive comparisons.”