Many students have plans for the future. Few people have a business plan and even fewer manage to execute it. Portland native Hannah Gruber is one of those rare people.
Gruber, a 2019 graduate of Portland High School, is currently a student at Michigan State University majoring in biosystems engineering with a minor in entrepreneurship. While in the entrepreneurship program at MSU, Gruber met co-founder Avery Tilley who studies biology with a focus on fisheries and wildlife biology and genetics. Tilley, who is from Texas, plans to attend veterinary school after graduation. The couple bonded over a shared passion for food sustainability and helping people know and appreciate the source of their food. Tilley also had previous experience with growing fruit trees and grafting methods and this combination led to a winning idea.
This was the spark that became the business plan for Branching Out Inc. The duo’s new start-up to sell custom-designed grafted dwarf fruit trees suitable for growing indoors as houseplants. Grafting is an ancient technique used by fruit growers where limbs from one tree are spliced into another to increase yield or produce new varieties. This process even allows the creation of trees that produce several types of fruit. For example, a tree might grow oranges, lemons, and limes. Or maybe you prefer peaches, plums and apricots. The only limitation really is that citrus fruits are grafted with citrus fruits and stone fruits with stone fruits.
“Our uniqueness is that we use dwarf varieties the size of a houseplant,” says Gruber. The combination of old-fashioned transplants and varieties that make the plants suitable for indoor growing is intended to appeal to a wider range of buyers. While Gruber says their target demographic is serious “urban houseplant fanatics,” they’d also like to see their trees in classrooms and other educational settings to help people learn more about the grafting and more broadly on fruit farming.
The duo’s plan recently received a huge boost in the form of a $10,000 grant from the Burgess Entrepreneurship Grant. The contest open to MSU students is reminiscent of the Shark Tank show, Gruber says. Dozens of students submitted business and financial plans. The top fifteen were able to pitch their plan to a panel of MSU alumni and supporters who funded the grants. Gruber and Tilley placed second in the contest winning the prize money.
Additionally, they were supported by the MSU Burgess Institute. Part of the School of Business, the program offers an academic minor as well as logistical support for start-up student businesses. Students in a wide range of disciplines can secure paid internships at the institute where they gain valuable hands-on experience while providing student start-ups with the support they need to get off the ground. Support includes everything from marketing and graphic design to website development and legal advice.
Using funds from the grant and a soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter campaign, Branching Out will begin selling ready-made, custom-grafted fruit trees online. Eventually, they also hope to launch a showcase where people can learn more about fruit tree grafting. Trees will cost between $160 and $200 depending on the specific grafts. “I think anyone can be an entrepreneur,” says Gruber, “it’s never too early to start and move forward.” To learn more about Branching Out, readers can visit their website; www.branching-out-trees.com where they can sign up for a mailing list to find out when the Kickstarted goes live. You can also follow them on Instagram @Branchingout_inc.