Applied Math student wins Velocity $5K pitch competition

Monday, December 4, 2023

Congratulations to Doris Wenbo Yi, an applied math major and one of the four winners of a $5000 grand prize in this term’s Velocity $5K Pitch Competition.

Yi won for Plantal Support, her company that provides houseplant enthusiasts with aesthetically pleasing, modular indoor greenhouse solutions to improve the longevity and health of the plants in their homes while minimizing human labor.

Doris Wenbo Yi holds cheque for $5000

The company grew out of Yi’s enduring frustration at trying to keep tropical houseplants alive through cold, dark Canadian winters. “I had to admit that I don’t have a green thumb,” she says, and so she decided to “look into a scientific way to provide better plant care with less human effort.”

The first device she designed, a modular vertical growing device called the “Crystal Moss Pole,” replaces giant rainforest trees, allowing climbing plants to attach their aerial roots to the pole and absorb water and nutrients. The device’s success led her to develop further products, and in September 2022 she officially launched Plantal Support to sell her innovative greenhouse solutions to others.

Despite the fact that she has successfully sold thousands of units in the last year, Yi did not initially consider herself a contender for the $5K Pitch Competition. This term, however, she was a student in BET 300: Foundations of Venture Creation, as well as a participant in the Velocity Cornerstone program. Both of her instructors encouraged her to apply, and to her shock she was chosen as one of the 28 start-ups to participate in the semifinals, and successfully moved on to the finals.

Doris Wenbo Yi presents

“There are so many brilliant contestants and cutting-edge innovative technologies being showcased in this competition. It is really humbling to be given the opportunity,” she says.

Ultimately, Yi was chosen for a $5000 grand prize alongside three other teams among the eight finalists. The other winners were Mapmate, which focuses on increasing sustainable food production by connecting African farmers and food processors; Blackbird, real-time flood mapping software and Pliantech, which is developing better spinal disc replacements.

“We’re very excited about Doris capturing this wonderful award,” says Hans De Sterck, chair of the department of Applied Mathematics. “It’s another great example of how our Applied Math students are innovative and succeed in and out of the classroom.”

Winning the competition, Yi says, “was surreal, confusing, and scary. The imposter syndrome is real!” This imposter syndrome stems in part from Yi’s uniqueness among the contestants: she was an individual pitching against businesses run by multi-person teams.

With her prize money, she hopes to expand Plantal Support, increasing the scale of production as well as potentially working with one of her professors to create further data-driven devices for modular greenhouse system.

Though Yi’s name is the only one on Plantal Support, she has a village to thank for getting this far. Yi is grateful to “Byron F., Dr. Pu, Dr. Kelly, Dr. Ruttan, Lisa, Prof. Vrscay, Prof. Wayne Chang, Qiong X., Sarah C., and Shelley H. for providing me with guidance and being there by my side even in my darkest days,” she says. She is also thankful for “John, Krysta, and Tamer” at Velocity for having “my back through the ups and downs,” her professors and fellow entrepreneurs, and the staff at the AEMS and E3 Machine Shop: “Fred, Phil, Richard, and Victor, you rock!”

You can learn more about this fall’s Velocity $5K pitch competition, and future entrepreneurship opportunities from Velocity, on their website.