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The Briarpatch Network

What is the Briarpatch Network?

Drilling for Information

The Briarpatch Network is a system of self-reliance and mutual support for small, really-small and one-person businesses. It starts with the ideas that you are a Briar if you:

  1. Seek to do work you love and make a good living doing it.
  2. Have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works and love to learn.
  3. Prefer cooperation to "going it alone."
  4. See honesty and openness as superior strategies to deception and secretiveness.
  5. Place a high value on personal and social responsibility.
  6. Belive in right livelihood and simple living.
  7. Open your financial records to your community.
  8. Put quality and service ahead of just making money.
  9. See making a profit as necessary to staying in business.
  10. Think it is important to include fun in everything you do.

Are you a Briar?

If you ever considered yourself a member of the Briarpatch, then "Yes!" you are a Briar. Even if you're just now learning about the Briarpatch, you may be a Briar and just never called yourself that. Check out the list above and any of the rest of the information on this page. Then ask yourself "Am I a Briar?"

If you feel an affinity then welcome! Old or new, you are invited to add or update your contact information by answering our survey. Just follow this link. We also welcome you to any or all of the online community spaces that present-day Briars are experimenting with. There are just three and you'll find them here:

About Briarpatch

Good sources of information about the Briarpatch Network are the portions of our story included in these three books by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry: Drilling for Information



The best way to find a Briarpatch where you live, is to just start one.

  1. What's your purpose? Every business support network is different. Most combine both emotional support and practical business counsel in various mixes. A clear purpose will make it easier for you to attract others.

  3. Recruit at least one buddy. If you already meet regularly with a support buddy, the two of you will make the perfect kernal of an organizing team. Each of you can invite another person and you'll have a support group. As each new person invites their friends and associates, you'll become a network.

  5. Avoid homogeneity. Many groups form around the similarities we see in each other, and that's ok. But for longevity and innovation and the opportunity to change and grow, make a focused effort to invite people who are different. Of course you will want to invite experts in accounting, law, marketing, and so forth. That's just good business sense. But also invite all genders and multiple ethnicities, and make a special place for the creative, the strange, and the wonderful.

  7. Choose the right meeting place. Bay Area Briars have met in the posh San Francisco Tennis Club, member business board rooms, the meeting rooms in local restaurants, right in the middle of bustling cafes, in school classrooms, at different member homes and just about any place you can think of. Our longest continuously running meeting took place once a month for 6 years in an art gallery where we stored tables and chairs that we brought out each time we met. Mutual support was the main attraction, but members also looked forward to the continuously changing exhibits.

    The place you choose will have a profound effect on the "look and feel" of the meeting. Make sure it's in alignment with what you're trying to accomplish.

  9. Meet regularly and continuously. If members know the regular time and place and that the meeting will always be held, you'll save on the time it takes to keep everybody informed about the meeting and folks will incorporate the rhythm of the meeting into their routines. Experiment has shown us that support buddies (2 people) should meet once a week, but support groups work best if they meet once a month.

  11. Use meeting facilitation techniques. Agree on an agenda, appoint a time keeper, work together to keep the meeting moving. The Bay Area Briarpatch usually spends the first hour giving each attendee 2 minutes to introduce themselves and describe their business. If there are more people than there is time for introductions, the coordinator helps attendees move quickly through their 7 to 20 word "elevator" speeches. Then the floor is opened for brainstorming about individual attendees business needs. These can range from simple resource referrals of suppliers or professionals to shared words of wisdom from hard won experience. The coordinator keeps people to the time limit and at the end, time is made for announcements and networking.

  13. Eat Lunch. Meeting over lunch draws more attendees because no matter how busy you are, you have to eat and lunch is a time that no one is expecting you to be at your desk to answer the phone. Many groups are successful at organizing potlucks, but it's a lot of extra effort. Bay Area Briars held a monthly bring your own "brown bag" lunch successfully for more than 12 years. Participants often brought food to share, but it wasn't a requirement.

Historical Support and Benefits

(What we used to do and hope to do in the future.)


Find more photos like this at the Briarpatch Network on Ning or in the Briarpatch Group on Facebook.


A History of Histories

Sharing the milk.

The Briarpatch Contribution

Several important books have been written by Briars, exemplifying the contributions Briars have made to society in general, as well as values and causes such as: .

Scroll down to check out some of the titles.

Several important publishers have been members of the network as well. They are listed just below the books.


Kristin Anundsen

Joani Blank (R.I.P.)

Stewart Brand

Bart Brodsky

Ernest (Chick) Callenbach

Debra Lynn Dadd

Jed Diamond

David Harp

Paul Hawken

Arthur Hough

Jim Lewis

Joanna Macy

Patricia Ryan Madson

Improv Wisdom book cover

Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durett

Freda Morris

Ken Norwood

Yana Parker

Fran Peavey

Michael Phillips

Gods of Commerce book cover



With Salli Rasberry:

With Ernest Callenbach:

With Catherine Campbell:

Salli Rasberry

Will Schutz

Dave Smith

Joan Leslie Taylor

Carole Rae Watanabe

Michael Wenger

Claude Whitmyer

Mindfulness and Meaningful Work cover image


Andy (Baha'uddin) Alpine

Joani Blank

Stewart Brand

Bart Brodsky

Tom Ferguson

Michael Glicksohn

Virginia Mudd

David Palmer

Leonard Rifus

Carol Seajay

Jim Silverman

Lee Spiegel

Jake Warner

Briarpatch Schools

A Briarpatch Learning Expedition

Noren Institute

In 1980, as part of his Uncommon Courtesy School Stewart Brand organized a "learning expedition" with Paul Hawken and Michael Phillips as fellow faculty. The three of them took participants around to visit Briarpatch businesses as exemplars of values-based businesses that also made a profit.

In 1981, based on this "learning expedition" idea, Andora Freeman, Shali Parsons, Michael Phillips, and Claude Whitmyer founded Noren Institute, a business school affiliated with the Briarpatch. After the first year, Shali Parsons moved away to Hawaii, Charmian Anderson joined Noren breifly and then Salli Rasberry came on board. Noren offered courses twice a year until 1986, including classics such as:

The latter two courses became well-known, best-selling books by the same titles.

A Briarpatch Learning Expedition

The Noren Institute advertised "Hands-on Business Learning." We made site visits to member businesses and the business owners themselves acted as our guest teachers. We aimed to offer courses twice a year and to take advantage of San Francisco and Wine Country as an additional motivation to attract "students." Mostly small business owners themselves—they came from all over the world.

As with the original Brand/Hawken/Phillips event, we loaded participants into a passenger van and headed out for several site visits to study exemplar Briarpatch businesses. We had coffee breaks, of course and stopped for lunch at one or another of our Briarpatch or just plain great San Francisco food establishements. With a couple of hours remaining in the day, we arrived back at our offices over Bloom's Saloon on Potrero Hill to process the day's learning.

Noren had nearly 300 alumni by the end of its five year life-span.

Other Briarpatch Schools

New College of California

In the mid to late 1980s, Briars Claude Whitmyer and Paul Terry were recruited by Briar Martin Hamilton, president of New College of California, to develop a suite of business related courses for the college's continuing education offerings. Claude was also asked to develop a "Learning Resource Center" that offered public job skills workshops and courses available to local residents in both English and Spanish.

Renaissance Entrepreneurship Programs

For many years Briar Paul Terry was principle consultant, instructional designer, and instructor for the business training programs offered by the San Fransico Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. In 1995, for his work at Renaissance, he recieved the Inc. Magazine/Kaufman Foundation award for "Outstanding Entrepreneurial Educator of the Year."

California Institute of Integral Studies

A Briarpatch Learning Expedition

From 1993 through 1997, Briarpatch members were also involved in creating a Master of Arts in business—with a focus on right livelihood and social responsibility—within the School of Transformative Learning at California Institute of Integral Studies.

Claude Whitmyer served as founding program director. With broad-based support from members and friends of the Briarpatch community, our "mastering the art of business" program graduated nearly three dozen M.A. degree students before an institution-wide fiscal crisis caused the program to be merged into the CIIS organizational psychology offerings.

Those first 30 plus graduates went on to find their own right livelihoods in positions ranging from non-profit management to big eight consulting firms as well as launching a host of small businesses and other creative and cause-based projects.

Other unique schools in the Briarpatch have included:

Briarpatch Food Chain

Dozens of Briars started food related businesses and many of the original Bay Area food coop businesses were Briars.

Briarpatch Take on Tech

Briars often have unique takes on the use of technology in society.

For example, The Well (the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link founded by Stewart Brand) was one of the earliest online community and social media networks. Launched in the mid-1980s well before public access to the Internet, members used dial-up modems over regular phone lines to connect to servers—very slow but fun!

Stewart also launched the Whole Earth Software Review and many Briars were active in the early stage development of Wired and Salon.

Self-help law publisher Nolo Press was one of first publishers anywhere to sell their books online and to offer downloadable e-books.

There have been dozens of technology related Briarpatch businesses over the years. Here are two still going strong:

Briarpatch Businesses About Community

Community organizing, community building and communities of practice have long been of interest to many Briars. There have been dozens of members involved in co-housing and intentional community from the earliest "hippie" communes to todays modern cooperatives and co-housing projects. Here are some examples:

(Somewhat) Well Known Briarpatch Businesses

Well known Bay Area businesses whose owners were Briars include:

What People Say About the Briarpatch

From a discussion thread on the Bahai Business Forum for the Americas about "Applying Devine Principles":

"Some of you may be familiar with the Briarpatch Network. This group is an association of over 500 small business members, who believe in open accounts, business honesty and information sharing. The network has been so successful that other groups have formed in Canada, Japan, Sweden, and Finland. It contains every type of business, including fashion design, furniture manufacture, ranches, restaurants, circuses, libraries, bars, theatre groups, educational institutions, professional services and health clinics.

"The Network aims to improve business viability, within a basic framework of honesty and openness. Studies of it have shown that:

"1. Competition is a poor model of the real world; co-operation is more accurate. Members set their own prices with relatively little reference to competitors.

"2. Profit has a detrimental effect when treated as a primary goal.

"3. Social costs (environmental responsibility, etc.) are rewarded when included in business pricing.

"4. Honesty is a major factor in business efficiency; dishonesty has negative effects and the extent of harm is proportional to the degree of dishonesty.

"This is the reality in small business, where the consequences of a decision are close to the decision maker. But the basic ethical and business environment is the same as the one in which Microsoft, Exxon, operate."

Edwin Humphries
Mottahedeh Development Services