Leadership Initiative Gives Synthetic Biology a LEAP Forward

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The Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (LEAP) has published a 64-page eBook detailing the initiative, the 2012 Workshop where it was launched, and the visions and plans for LEAP to help lead the future of synthetic biology on their new website (http://synbioleap.org/). LEAP is cosponsored by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded center headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley; and by NSF; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; the Synthetic Biology Project; the BioBricks Foundation; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


LEAP is an intensive yearlong Fellowship program. Each year about twenty Fellows--emerging leaders working in diverse areas of biotechnology--are selected to participate. Through the program, LEAP Fellows build their skills, tools, and networks to engage a spectrum of organizations involved in shaping biotechnology. The program is centered on a weeklong in-residence leadership workshop where Fellows work together and with the guidance of world-class experts across disciplines and sectors to develop actionable strategies to address their top challenges for the practice of synthetic biology. In addition to building a cadre of young professionals taking on leadership roles in the synthetic biology community, LEAP aims to create sustainable tools and mechanisms for engaging a broader range of practitioners in the societal role of biotechnology development.


The central component of the LEAP program is the leadership workshop, at which LEAP Fellows work together with the help of a professional facilitation team to develop strategic plans to advance the field of biotechnology. The workshop serves as an incubator and launch pad for Fellows to develop their visions and plans for advancing biotechnology to create societal value. According to one participant, the workshop offered, “Time to think and to plan a strategy which can direct my research toward the public benefit by embracing responsibility as a leader.” LEAP Fellows are joined at the workshop by a group of distinguished guest expert mentors from diverse facets of biotechnology development, who share their personal leadership stories and challenges and work with the Fellows on their plans.

LEAP also organizes activities throughout the year to support the LEAP Fellows, grow the LEAP network, and engage the broader community and stakeholders in biotechnology development. LEAP provides Fellows with travel support to attend key community meetings in which they can share their thoughts on policy and consult with diverse audiences on their visions and plans. It also supports the organization of fora to help build the community that will be stewards for the future. In 2013, LEAP Fellows and mentors participated in a Pre-Conference Forum on Enabling the Next Generation of Leadership and Community in Synthetic Biology at the Sixth International Meeting on Synthetic Biology in London. The LEAP website keeps everyone up to date on initiatives and activities.