Future of Synthetic Biology and Business by Dr. John Cumbers

Dr. John Cumbers is the Founder and CEO of SynBioBeta, a vibrant community and conference centered around the synthetic biology field. With a background in molecular biology, biochemistry, and bioinformatics, including a stint at NASA, he made a dramatic leap from science to creating a thriving industry community. Dr. Cumbers’ efforts at SynBioBeta have led to an annual conference attracting thousands of global participants, whereas as a dedicated connector, he passionately facilitates introductions that result in significant scientific advancements. He retains a robust academic background with a PhD in molecular biology, yet his childhood entrepreneurial spirit has fundamentally shaped his career.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:06] How childhood experiences can ignite a lifelong entrepreneurial flame
  • [03:34] How family histories of entrepreneurship can skip generations
  • [05:11] The origins of Dr. John Cumbers’ passion for meaningful networking and pivotal introductions
  • [07:23] Early job experiences that taught vital lessons in work ethics and sales
  • [08:37] The transformative influence of life experiences on career choices
  • [10:22] How to convert challenges into profits and reinvent job roles 
  • [13:08] SynBioBeta’s impact on science, careers and community building
  • [18:48] Creating an industry-centric community by filling an unmet need
  • [20:49] Leveraging high-profile connections to grow industry notoriety
  • [26:57] Secret strategies for securing the participation of industry VIPs at events

In this episode…

Ever wondered how a single idea can spark a global movement, bringing together innovators worldwide to revolutionize an entire industry? What if the key to pioneering change was not just the idea itself but connecting the right minds to make it happen? How did one man’s journey from playing with conkers to shaping the future of synthetic biology exemplify this transformative power of community and connection?

Dr. John Cumbers turned his childhood entrepreneurial spirit into a mission to build a community at the forefront of synthetic biology. His journey from selling conkers as a child to founding a premier biotech conference exemplifies how a vision can evolve into a dynamic, worldwide hub of innovation. Through SynBioBeta, Dr. Cumbers has created a platform where the brightest minds in biotechnology converge, sharing ideas and sparking collaborations that drive the industry forward. This episode dives into how he harnessed his passion for connecting people to foster an ecosystem where groundbreaking scientific advancements are the norm.

Tune in to this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast as John Corcoran interviews Dr. John Cumbers, the Founder and CEO of SynBioBeta, about building influential networks and fostering innovation in the biotech industry. They delve into Dr. Cumbers’ entrepreneurial journey, from his early days of selling conkers to leading a significant player in the synthetic biology arena, and how strategic connections and persistent vision can lead to monumental achievements in science and business.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Quotable Moments:

  • “If you put peanut butter and chocolate together, you get something amazing that nobody else can dream of.”
  • “I might not win a Nobel Prize, but I think much better of myself by introducing two people who might.”
  • “There are no bounds to this brain and what it can think, and if it can think it, then you can try to do it.”
  • “Biology is so complex; to think about engineering it from the human mind is one thing, but now we’ve got AI.”
  • “Stay curious. Just keep asking those questions.”
  • “Connecting real people, face to face – it’s what makes us human.”

Sponsor: Rise25

At Rise25, we’re committed to helping you connect with your Dream 100 referral partners, clients, and strategic partners through our done-for-you podcast solution. 

We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

What do you need to start a podcast?

When you use our proven system, all you need is an idea and a voice. We handle the strategy, production, and distribution – you just need to show up and talk.

The Rise25 podcasting solution is designed to help you build a profitable podcast. This requires a specific strategy, and we’ve got that down pat. We focus on making sure you have a direct path to ROI, which is the most important component. Plus, our podcast production company takes any heavy lifting of production and distribution off your plate.

We make distribution easy

We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

Are you considering launching a podcast to acquire partnerships, clients, and referrals? Would you like to work with a podcast agency that wants you to win? 

Contact us now at [email protected] or book a call at rise25.com/bookcall.

Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

Today we’re talking about how to build a passionate community in a particular niche in the industry that you’re in and how to become the most well connected person in your industry. My guest today is Dr. John Cumbers. I’ll tell you more about him in a second. So stay tuned.

Chad Franzen 0:16

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:33

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran. Here. I’m the host of this show. You know, every week I get to talk to interesting entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs of all kinds of companies, we’ve had Netflix Kinkos, YPO, EO Activision Blizzard, lending tree, go check out the archives, you’ll see some great episodes that we have there as well. And of course, this episode brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with free podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn about us at Rise25.com. 

And my guest here today is Dr. John Conyers. He’s the Founder and CEO of SynBioBeta. It is a community and a conference in the field of synthetic biology. And he is a leading figure in biotechnology, innovation. And we’re going to hear his story about really putting, going from being a worker at NASA, and deciding that he wanted to create a community and industry for his field, and putting his heart and soul into it and how he built that today, a community that continues to exist and to thrive. And Dr. Cumbers. John, great to have you here. I’m really excited to hear your story. 

But, you know, I always love to start by learning a little bit about what people were like as a kid. And you grew up outside of London. And even though you’ve got this robust academic background, and you worked at NASA, and synthetic biology, all this kind of stuff, you actually had a pretty scrappy, entrepreneurial upbringing where you were, well, you tell us a story, you were selling a Buckeye as we call them here in the state, but some little toy or something like that.

Dr. John Cumbers 2:06

Yeah, I’ve always been an entrepreneur, I’ve always liked making a quick buck. And we call them conquerors in the UK, horse chestnuts. And there’s a game that many kids in the UK play. And if they still play it now, where you take the conqueror, and you secure it, you put a hole through it, and then you put your thread through it, and then you tie a knot at the end of the string. And then you’d have a conqueror on the end of a string. And then you’d play with other kids about who could smash the other person’s conqueror. And that was the winner. And if you, if you beat it, you got something I can’t remember, I can’t remember what you got. So I remember, probably I was seven or eight years old, just sitting in the living room in front of the TV, and threading these conquerors.

And then I take them in like a whole bunch, like 10 or 20 of them, and I’d sell them. Now you couldn’t sell a conqueror for that much. It was probably like two p or five p 10. B, you know, something on the order of that magnitude in terms of cents pennies. But I figured that I could swap them for micro machines, and Micro Machines are these tiny little toy cars. And the toy cars would sell for like four pounds or something like that. So I could sell like, three or four conkers for I’d swap it for a micro machine. And I could trade up to these micro machines. So that was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. But I’m always looking for opportunities to start a business or make money, it is just in my blood.

John Corcoran 3:34

That’s funny. Did you were raised by entrepreneurs, did you have entrepreneurs around you as a kid?

Dr. John Cumbers 3:39

Not at all. My mom was a librarian, and my dad was a technician in high school. And I remember going to my mom and dad, this was when I was about 17 years old and saying, I want to invest in the stock market. And as they said, we can’t help you. We don’t know how to do that. We’ve never done it. And we don’t know anything about it. So you’re on your own. It didn’t stop me investing in the stock market just in time for the.com Boom and the.com crash, which was an interesting time to be investing. But now my mum and dad are very frugal people. They spend very carefully but they are not entrepreneurial. But if you go back a couple of generations, I’ve got this wonderful photo of a shop in London called Cumbers. And brothers, which is like a general supply store and it has hairs hanging up and, and sheep and things like that. So it’s definitely in my blood, the entrepreneurial gene. 

John Corcoran 4:36

Oh, that’s it’s really cool to have a photo like that. That’s really neat. Yeah, well, and I know there are a few other entrepreneurial stops around the way before we get into that, including at 13 years old. You’re working at a pub, which is not something you hear very often here in the States. I want to hear about that. But do you recall when you were this young, did you have a feeling that you like to be well connected to know a lot of pee? Because I know that that is a value for you now in the industry that you’re in, you like being the connected person in your industry. Do you recall that feeling as a kid?

Dr. John Cumbers 5:11

I remember watching a BBC documentary about a woman who organized parties. And the sole function for those parties was that she would connect people to other people at the party. I remember very vividly this documentary, and being like, That’s dumb. That’s like really weird. That’s like, kind of awkward, like, let’s do lunch kind of yuppie networking thing. And now I’m just like, I live and breathe that that is what I am so passionate about doing. And I have a PhD in molecular biology and in the first week of graduate school, my advisor, Mark Taylor at Brown University said to me, I have, I have high hopes for you, John.

And he said, I think you’re going to do really well in graduate school. And I said, well, thank you very much. But where I think I’m really going to add value, I’m not sure that I will win a Nobel Prize. But I think I might be sitting at the bar, introducing two people who are sitting next to me together, and they will go on and win the Nobel Prize. And I was wearing that saying that, like it was a badge of honor, like I was so proud that I had made that connection and had gone on to do something great. And he looked down at me and he said, John, I think much, much better of you.

John Corcoran 6:34

That’s an important role, putting two people together that create some groundbreaking science that earns a Nobel that’s amazing.

Dr. John Cumbers 6:40

I think so. And that’s what I love doing. I really, really find passion, I have a whole system for introducing people, my executive assistant and drafting emails, and I’m making probably, you know, three or four introductions to people per day.

John Corcoran 6:55

We’re gonna have to compare notes afterwards, because I’m a big fan of doing that as well. I tell people all the time that it’s so valuable to make introductions like that. And, and I’ve, I’ve introduced people to people that actually did my podcast that ended up moving in with their family separately, to live close to each other and start a business together. And I love it makes me so happy. I mentioned it. 13 years old, you’re working in a pub?

Dr. John Cumbers 7:23

Well, every village in England has a pub, and we used to have a pub. And I bet it was a family tradition, I think, to maybe maybe all of my siblings. I’m the youngest of four. I think we all worked in the pub in this one pub called the three campuses in Oldham. And we all work there. And I remember going up there and collecting glasses. I think I was paid actually, I know I was paid. I’m not sure how much I was paid right at the beginning. But when I actually got a pay stub, I was paid one pound 25 per hour. And, and it wasn’t I think when I was 13. It was probably illegal. That’s when I started doing it. But then I was only collecting glasses. I wasn’t working behind the bar in the kitchen at the beginning. And then as soon as you get to I think 16 you can work in the kitchen. You can work in the pub. So yeah, that was one of my first real jobs.

John Corcoran 8:17

And eventually you went into and this makes total sense. NASA you theater you ended up working, doing sales and marketing for a youth theater where you felt like you really cut your entrepreneurial teeth. Yeah, the pumphouse shield is natural to then brown synthetic biology, you know, NASA’s total clear line right there.

Dr. John Cumbers 8:37

Well, you know what there was, there was definitely some substance abuse involved that kind of opened my mind to, to the wonders of, of the world, and that, that broadened my horizons, I started getting interested in space, I started getting interested in longevity and aging. And I started realizing, hey, there are no bounds to this brain and what it can think, and if it can think it, then you can try to do it. And I’ve always had that philosophy. But yes, it started with the pumphouse Children and Youth Theatre in Watford, which was the town near where I grew up. And I went to the theater, and I was acting in it, singing and dancing. And then, I just love theater, I love performance. And then they asked for a volunteer to run the box office. 

And I put my hand up and said, Sure, I don’t know what to do, but I’ll do it. And that’s a theme throughout my life as well just volunteering for interesting things. And I ended up being in charge of this show. It was Godspell if you’re familiar with it, which is an amazing musical. It ran for 13 nights and there were 126 seats in the theater, and we sold tickets, anything from one pound to seven pounds a ticket, and we sold out the show and I was sitting there with this 16 year old boy with 3000 pounds in this ticket sales box. And I was just like cha ching. I mean, that’s a lot of money. Now, that was a lot of money in 2025 30 years ago.