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Bill Dunbar '97

Bill Dunbar

Founder, Chief Technology Officer, Nooma Bio

Class of '97

Born and raised in Arlington, and after graduating Virginia Tech I moved to California and never left. I went to graduate school at UC San Diego (M.S., '99), then Caltech (Ph.D., '04). I was a professor for twelve years in Robotics / Computer Engineering at UC Santa Cruz. It was there I got the idea to start a company, and through that found my purpose: building people, culture and technology. I got the startup bug so bad, I gave up tenure with only a two month runway in the bank for our new company, then called Two Pore Guys (the irony!). I put music before podcasts, faith before fear, hard work before guess work. I love my wife, surfing, and playing in a band with my two kids (16 and 14).

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The work project/initiative I'm most excited about...

I am on fire for our new startup (Nooma Bio), which licensed patents from my days as a professor. The technology we are building will allow researchers to explore your epigenome. Translation: If your genome is the hardware instruction booklet (genes), your epigenome is the executable program that defines your living state (expression) and how fragile or robust that state is or may become. When the epigenome (program) has errors, you get autoimmune diseases, cancers, a whole host of segfaults. Our technology will help researchers more easily read that software program (faster and cheaper than they can now), and with the highest possible precision by reading each molecule's program (better than they can now).

 

How Virginia Tech equipped me for the "real world"...

after graduating Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM), no engineering/math problem could scare me. I did not solve all that I subsequently encountered–and I was completely wrong on more than one occasion–but I was not intimidated.

 

I stay connected with fellow Hokies by...

participating in VT events and through Facebook.

 

Last book I read...

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg); Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don't Have To (David Sinclair).

 

Favorite way to end the day...

nicotine (smoke free; don't tell), hot shower, then Fargo series.

 

Co-founding a small business...

is a crazy idea. You have to be a little crazy. And not scared of risk. Before you do it, talk to everyone who has the stripes of failure and the glory of eventual success, and glean their experience. Ignore people who did not fail (luck is not a teacher).

 

Having a multi-disciplinary background enables me...

to be dangerous. Still important to know what I don't know. But it is easier for me to speak science to scientists, more than the average engineer anyway.

 

Being a stealth-mode startup means...

you never stop working. So don't do it unless it really isn't work. I love it.

 

A cause I'm most passionate about...

autoimmunity is a massively growing bucket that people are lumped into because medicine often does not have the tools to find answers. I am passionate about building tools that accelerate finding answers. My wife and I also care about feeding and clothing kids that don't have enough.

 

Favorite Virginia Tech tradition...

burgers at Mike's Grill (sad it closed).

 

Best part of being a Virginia Tech alum...

we are solid, good-hearted people.