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Success Stories

Client Spotlight: Doris Wenbo Yi, Founder of Plantal Support

Optimal plant care made simple, Plantal Support, owned and operated by Doris Wenbo Yi, is improving the lives of plants and people alike—one moss pole at a time.

April 1, 2024

Houseplants have a reputation for improving mental health, physical well-being, and overall mood. So when Doris Wenbo Yi, an international student studying mathematics at the University of Waterloo, suffered a mental health crisis in 2022, she turned to houseplants for the first time in a while. She came across a Facebook Marketplace listing for the plant that was priced at one dollar, and she thought, Why not? Tried as she might have to keep the plant alive and thriving, Doris didn’t really know what she was doing, and it eventually died. Rather than discouraging her, this experience motivated Doris to learn where she went wrong and how she might better care for another plant. What she discovered was that, in her own words, the world of houseplants is accompanied by a “vast sea of things to know”.

At the top of that list? Well, there’s really no such thing as a true houseplant. No plant, of course, was made to thrive best in a house.

“Many of the plants that are sold as houseplants originate from tropical rainforests. In their natural habitats there, these plants would have totally different environments: high humidity, ventilation, natural lighting, and giant trees surrounding them. Lots of them have aerial roots above soil that attach to giant trees nearby. The concept of having a vertical device that mimics these giant trees to support houseplants was out there, but many of the available products weren’t very user-friendly and required lots of maintenance. I saw the gap in the market, and I had this desire to create a more efficient, more adaptive tool.”

Parameters where plants can thrive

That desire to better mimic a houseplant’s natural habitat at home is what led to the inception of Plantal Support, which now carries several products that make optimal plant care simple. Doris designed the products on her computer and was able to make initial prototypes and produce them on a small scale using the machinery available to her at the University of Waterloo. Eventually, she outsourced production to manufacturers in order to produce in larger quantities, and now Plantal Support is shipping their beloved plant care all throughout Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

“Particularly during the COVID lockdowns, more people turned to houseplants for help with mental health struggles, myself included. As an international student, I have some friends here, but no family, so it can be lonely sometimes. Having something to take care of, that depends on me, is extremely therapeutic. And more people are catching on and desiring to provide the very best for their plants, and sharing what I’ve learned about plant care with them has been one of the best parts of this journey.”

Initiative to support neurodivergent students

Neurodivergent herself, Doris is passionate about supporting local students with similar experiences. She understands how limited resources currently are for these students and feels lucky that she had enough finances to find what she needed to push through her own challenges. That’s why a portion of the profits made on Plantal Support products goes toward these students. She is working toward setting up an emergency fund for the cause.

New opportunities for growth

In May 2023, Doris was invited to a conference in Toronto for student entrepreneurs, where an AC staff member was a speaker. After hearing about Doris’s business and ideas, he encouraged her to apply to the AC’s program.

“The AC:Incubate program has helped me to stop oversimplifying the business side of things and know what to prioritize. Before I thought, Okay, I have an idea, and I think I know how to monetize it. But there’s so much more to it. After sales picked up, I started to realize that it was way beyond my capacity to produce everything myself. The AC helped me to implement the help of manufacturers, suppliers, and logistics workers. And the mentors have been a constant support. I love being able to book meetings with them, knowing they specialize in all the things I don’t know enough about and need help with.”

Reaching new heights

There was a time that Doris didn’t think it was possible for her to achieve all that she has today with Plantal Support. And even after creating a successful business while a full-time math student, all the positive reviews she’s received from customers, and winning Velocity’s $5K pitch competition, Doris still struggles with imposter syndrome. “It’s scary sometimes,” she says. “I often think, ‘Why me?’ The media shows the bright and shiny side of the business’ success, but it’s important to me that people see that Plantal Support came out of a really dark time for me. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, and I want others struggling with mental health to know they’re not alone.”

But her happy customers are often enough to remind her of her why, as she gets messages like “I haven’t found anything I dislike about it” and “The quality of your products is AMAZING!”

Having overcome many obstacles, including those in her own mind, Doris says that there are exciting things ahead for Plantal Support. She has goals for the business and the support to achieve them. And while she was extremely academic-focused in high school, creating and running Plantal Support has shown her that she thrives as an entrepreneur—the more hands-on approach to solving problems, and seeing customers directly benefit from her creations, has been very rewarding.

Plantal Support will continue to provide the assistance plant parents need so they—and their plants—can flourish.