From its earliest days, New Jersey has depended on trade with Europe to drive its economy. In the early 1600s the Dutch built a series of forts and settlements throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The purpose of these trading posts was to buy furs, mainly beaver pelts, from the native Americans and export them to the home country for sale on the European market. Eventually the inhabitants of the colony moved into agriculture, lumber, and slave trading.

Nowadays New Jersey’s products are a bit more advanced than beaver pelts, but trade with Europe can still be a very lucrative prospect. Judith A. Sheft, associate VP of technology and enterprise development at New Jersey Institute for Technology, is promoting efforts to build economic ties between New Jersey and Europe, and in particular is encouraging companies to consider the Eurozone as an export market.

On Thursday, September 22, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Nassau Club in Princeton, NJIT will host a forum on entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology — “European Union and U.S. Perspectives.” The forum will feature experts from industry, academia, and government, including Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Ashley Rae Kark, CEO of BioJump; William J. Marshall, associate VP of government and military relations at the NJ Innovation Institute; and Marko Turpeinen, director of the Silicon Valley hub of EIT Digital. Tickets are free. For more information, E-mail or visit

Sheft, who began her career as a researcher at Bell Labs, has worked with technology for most of her career. She grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, where her father was a chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and her mother was a food nutrition chemist. She has a math degree from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Penn. In recent years she has worked for NJIT promoting the commercialization of technology. She believes European trade can be an important engine for driving science and technology forward.

The forum is sponsored by a grant from a delegation of the European Union to the U.S. and is hosted by the European American Chamber of Commerce of NJ, a Princeton-based group that promotes trade. In fact, Sheft says, the EU is one of the reasons the European market is so appealing to exporters. Because of the free trade allowed by the EU the nations of Europe can be treated as a single market. And when taken together, the Eurozone — that is, the EU plus the handful of European countries that didn’t join it — actually has a larger economy than the U.S.

Sheft says New Jersey’s position on the East Coast, with the port of Newark and other transportation infrastructure, makes it relatively easy to do business with Europe from a logistical standpoint. And it’s not just large corporations that Sheft is trying to reach. “The European market can be an important market for New Jersey to think about, as well as for small businesses to consider,” Sheft says.

According to Sheft, Europe is very appealing to small startup tech companies, and especially medical device makers or drug companies. NJIT has a business incubator for startups, and Sheft says many of the biotech companies there try to sell their products in Europe before breaking into the U.S. market. Why? It has to do with regulation. Winning approval for a drug or device from the European counterpart of the FDA means the product can be sold all over that continent. Many businesses believe that approval in Europe is easier and faster to get than in the U.S.

For example, a company working on a stent for urinary incontinence, and a company selling a breathalyzer, both located at the NJIT incubator, ran initial clinical trials in Europe rather than the U.S.

Other companies may look to Europe as a place to expand their existing market, Sheft says. A popular approach to doing this is to establish a relationship with a larger European company, and this is where organizations like the European-American Chamber of Commerce, and conferences like the one on September 22 can come in handy: they can help establish those connections.

Sheft says she believes some companies are put off by Europe’s multiplicity of languages, but that they shouldn’t be because English is spoken most everywhere.

There is a bit of uncertainty when dealing with the EU these days, Sheft acknowledges. In July Britain voted to leave the EU, and no one knows what effect that will ultimately have on the economy. “Certainly the ‘Brexit’ vote this summer is going to create a bit of confusion for companies thinking about doing business in Britain,” Sheft says. “I don’t want to say, ‘gosh, everything is smooth sailing there.’”

Any company thinking about doing business with Europe ought to come to the event and check it out, Sheft says. “There’s an opportunity to meet with some of the experts,” she says.

Numerous European companies already do business in New Jersey, ranging from small sales offices to major headquarters. For example, Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has its U.S. headquarters with hundreds of employees at Princeton Forrestal Center.

It’s not just manufacturers either. According to Sheft, Dynamic Air Quality Solutions, a Crescent Avenue-based maker of air filtering systems, contracts for environmental services in Europe. Numerous other companies sell their goods and services to the continent as well.

But high tech firms aren’t the only game in town. To this day, the fur trade continues. Trappers can sell a beaver pelt to fur companies for about $20 to $30.

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