By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.
When it comes to houseplant care, Zackry Brannen is a subject expert. In 2020, he encountered a problem that every plant owner has or will one day face. The dreaded fungus gnat. These pesky pests didn’t deter Brannen. Instead, he looked for ways of addressing the infestation of his houseplants. After trying every method on the internet and many products that simply don’t do the job, Brannen decided to develop his own insecticide formula. With three simple ingredients, Brannen has eliminated the guesswork of plant care and has created a solution that is sweeping the world of houseplants.
Creating a solution
It’s no surprise that we’ve seen an increase in houseplant sales over the last several years. Millennials and Gen Zers are the main demographics driving this significant increase and have even been dubbed the “plant-crazy generations”. In the summer of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, 17-year-old Zackry Brannen earned that title as he began hoarding houseplants. He found comfort, routine, and community in collecting plants during uncertain times.
Brannen’s collection continued to grow as he purchased more plants from big box stores. He quickly learned that large chain retailers often sell plants that are pest prone due to lack of quality plant care. As his plants became infested with fungus gnats, he went to the internet to look for natural solutions that would eliminate the bugs quickly. Avoiding products containing toxic chemicals left him with limited options.
After turning to natural remedies, Brannen found a handful of ingredients that worked, but not as well as he had hoped. So, he took to his laboratory (what was actually a small desk in his bedroom), and created his own concoction of cinnamon bark oil, neem oil, and peppermint oil. These three ingredients worked well individually, but mixed together, they made a potent insecticide that killed any and all plant pests for good. Brannen continued to adjust his formula for the perfect blend of ingredients, then sent it to several customers for testing. The responses were positive, and his sales began to increase.
In June of 2021, while still in high school, Brannen officially launched Perfect Plantista – a company that provides innovative houseplant care products that will leave you with happier, healthier houseplants. The primary product sold at Perfect Plantista is the naturally based and non-toxic insecticide. Brannen’s formula eliminates plant pests and protects your plants against future infestations.
Rooted in entrepreneurship
Leaving high school as an established business owner, Brannen knew he wanted to pursue business and entrepreneurship. He toured Iowa State University to appease his mother but had a change of heart after speaking with Rebecca Runyon (director of the LAS Innovation + Entrepreneurship Academy). She sold him on the university by highlighting the extensive entrepreneurship opportunities available to students.
As a sophomore at ISU studying marketing, entrepreneurship, and sales, Brannen began participating in every business pitch contest he could. In March of 2023, he pitched Perfect Plantista at the College-by-College Pitch Off and was awarded first place within the Ivy College of Business and received an honorable mention in the competition finale. He took home a total of $1,500 in winnings and a desire to take his business further by applying for the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship CYstarters program.
Since being selected for the 2023 CYstarters cohort, Brannen has been able to focus in on his financial goals for Perfect Plantista. As the business expands quickly, cash flow continues to be a challenge with all of the profit going toward purchasing more product to keep up with demand. His CYstarters mentor and ISU alum, Keith Kreuer, has helped him to implement new ways of predicting output and tracking his spending so that he can confidently take charge of his finances.
Brannen applied for CYstarters for the camaraderie of other entrepreneurs. He has learned many things about himself and his business while in the program, but the most impactful moments happened outside of the educational sessions alongside his peers.
As the program comes to a close, he is walking away with a community of support and friendship saying, “It’s been better than I ever could have asked for.” He’s also seen a significant increase in sales over the past six months and is currently employing a team of five. But that’s not where it ends for Brannen. He recently released a concentrated version of his insecticide and has other products in the works.
The overarching goal for Brannen is to make Perfect Plantista into the premier houseplant care brand on the market. To help him reach that goal, follow him on Instagram and Facebook and purchase his plant insecticide on his website or in-store at Art Terrerium, Pots & Shots, Desert Rose Cactus Lounge, or Back Alley House Plants.