Circle of Entrepreneurs keeps the spirit of Edison alive

Group’s aim is sustainability

By: Hilary Parker
   Thomas Edison, one of our nation’s first entrepreneurs, once said, "I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others. … I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent."
   The members of the Princeton Circle of Entrepreneurs are keeping Mr. Edison’s entrepreneurial spirit alive as they determine what Princeton needs, and then proceed — to invent, invest and engineer. The Princeton Circle of Entrepreneurs is an extension of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (, a nonprofit organization that connects forward-thinking entrepreneurs and businesses interested in sustainability.
   "Essentially, it’s to invite people with a concern to the table to gather, share their stories, support each other and implement and really maintain their focus on sustainability as their companies grow," explained Joanne Gere, one of the founders of the Circle of Entrepreneurs and a principal with Financial Architecture.
   After attending SBN Philadelphia events, Ms. Gere approached the nonprofit organization with an interest in establishing a sustainability network in the Princeton area, which led to the creation of the Circle of Entrepreneurs.
   The Circle of Entrepreneurs concept is also used in Philadelphia and Westchester, and the Princeton group meets once a month at various area businesses for meetings with a two-fold purpose. First, a member speaks about his or her business and any challenges it currently faces, such as how to address sustainability during periods of active growth. The group members then share ideas and discuss ways in which they have approached similar business challenges, and together develop a plan for the entrepreneur.
   Then, an outside presenter offers a program, like the presentations on green investing and green renovation. On Jan. 13, Wei-hsing Wang, founder of NicheUSA, offered a presentation on how the Circle of Entrepreneurs can use online tools, such as Web portals, to further the SBN in the Princeton area.
   "We’ve taken a couple of our sessions to talk about the big questions of life," Ms. Gere said, "On how we feel that our businesses can have an impact on the broader goals of sustainability."
   In so doing, the local entrepreneurs are careful to address the SBN’s motto — "People, profits, and planet" — as they consider their triple bottom line, taking into account economic, social and environmental concerns.
   "We’re trying to do the right thing with regard to the environment," said Peter Schutz, president of the High Bridge-based Schutz Engineering Corp. and an active member of the Circle of Entrepreneurs. "It’s adding little bit of social consciousness to the ‘profit-bottom line’ attitude."
   With their focus on sustainable entrepreneurship, the members of the circle are careful to keep the sustainability of the group in mind, as well, as they plan for the future. Just as they emphasize the importance of healthy, satisfied employees to any business, they maintain a focus on addressing, and responding to, the needs of the group members.
   "One of the things that is important for our own sustainability is that people find their passion and what they’d like to work on," Ms. Gere said, mentioning green building and green investing as two key areas that group members are interested in pursuing in depth in upcoming months.
   The group members also kept their own bottom line in mind when they made the decision to remain an affiliate of the SBN Philadelphia, rather than applying for separate nonprofit status. In so doing, Ms. Gere said, they were able to dedicate their time and their funds to actively gathering, rather than completing a lengthy certification process.
   For now, the group has an eye toward growth, drawing on members of SBN Philadelphia and anyone else with an interest in sustainability. Their meetings are free and open to the public, and the circle concept ensures that anyone who wishes to voice an opinion will be heard.
   At their next meeting on Feb. 2 at White Lotus Futon on Nassau Street, the group will hear a presentation by consultant Christian Recknagel, principal of Sem Development, on leadership — and, of course, they will take plenty of time to share their ideas.
   This sharing of ideas, of using knowledge in new ways, would have appealed to Thomas Edison himself, and chances are he would have been an active member of Princeton’s Circle of Entrepreneurs, in another time and place.
   "Because ideas have to be original only with regard to their adaptation to the problem at hand," he said, "I am always extremely interested in how others have used them."