• Jordan D. Smith

College Student’s Business Plan Wins Entrepreneur Grant


Lots of college students have plans for the future. Not many have a business plan and even fewer make that plan come to fruition. Portland native Hannah Gruber is one of those few.


Gruber, a 2019 grad of Portland High School is currently a junior 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 is studying biology with an emphasis on fisheries and wildlife biology and genetics. Tilley who is from Texas has plans to attend veterinary school after graduation. The pair connected over a shared passion for food sustainability and helping people to learn about and appreciate the source of their food. Tilley also had previous experience with fruit tree cultivation and grafting methods and that combination led to a winning idea.

That 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 old technique used by fruit growers where limbs from one tree and spliced into another to increase yield or produce new varieties. This process even allows for the creation of trees growing multiple types of fruit. For instance, a tree could grow oranges, lemons and limes. Or perhaps your taste is more for peaches, plums, and apricots. The only limitation really is that citrus fruit be grafted with citrus fruit and stone fruit be with stone fruit.


“Our twist is that we use dwarf houseplant-sized varieties,” says Gruber. The combination of old-school grafting and varieties that make the plants suitable for indoor growing is meant to appeal to a wider range of buyers. While Gruber says their target demographic is serious, “urban houseplant fanatics,” they also would like to see their trees in classrooms and other educational settings to help people learn about grafting and more broadly about fruit agriculture.


The duo’s plan recently got a huge shot in the arm in the form of a $10,000 grant from the Burgess Entrepreneurship Grant. The competition which is open to MSU students is reminiscent of the show Shark Tank, says Gruber. Dozens of students submitted business and financial plans. The top fifteen got to present their plan to a panel of MSU alums and supporters who funded the grants. Gruber and Tilley placed second in the competition winning the cash prize.

In addition, they have benefited from the support of the MSU Burgess Institute. Part of the School of Business the program offers an academic minor as well as logistical support for student business start-ups. Students in a wide range of majors can get paid internships at the institute where they gain valuable field experience while giving student start-ups the support they need to get off the ground. The support includes everything from marketing and graphic design to website development and legal advice.


Using the funds from the grant, and a soon-to-be-launched Kickstarter campaign, Branching Out will begin selling ready-made and custom-grafted fruit trees online. Eventually, they hope to also launch a storefront location where people can learn about fruit tree grafting. The trees will retail for between $160 and $200 depending on the specific grafts. “I think anyone can be an entrepreneur,” says Gruber, “Its never to early to start and go with it.” 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 learn when the Kickstarted is launched. You can also follow them on Instagram @Branchingout_inc.


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