A Green Thumb for Business

Wei Phoebe

A Green Thumb for Business

Entrepreneurship training helps a succulent plant business grow

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Wei Phoebe is passionate about succulent plants. In her words, they are adorable, carefree plants that can magically trigger joy and happiness. And she should know; she credits these plants with helping her get through an exceptionally challenging time in her life.

Wei was living in China in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She and her U.S.-born fiancé (now husband) were celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year when flights from China to the U.S. were about to be grounded. The couple cut plans short and returned together on the last U.S.-bound flight departing China on January 31. 

Within weeks, Wisconsin went into lockdown. Wei was an immigrant, home alone while her spouse still worked, and she had no social outlet. 

“I reached a low point and wondered, ‘Why am I here? What should I do?’ I earned a bachelor’s degree in China and considered getting a master’s degree in Human Resources,” she explains. “But I can’t sit in front of a computer for a long period; I’m a creative person.”

During that time of deep introspection, on a whim, Wei purchased a few succulents. It was love at first plant. She bought more. And more. She found her happiness and her direction. “I told my husband that these plants make me so happy. Maybe they will make other people happy, so I think I should turn my hobby into a business.”

With her husband’s support, Wei started with a Horticulture course at Fox Valley Technical College. She enjoyed the class so much, she signed up for a few more. In spring 2022, Wei enrolled in the E-seedTM Express program through the Venture Center at FVTC

“The best part about this program through the Venture Center is we were taught by someone who is running his own business,” Wei explains. “Each class is three hours long, but our instructor was so passionate and wanted us to learn every second. We were hungry for ideas and he was eager to share. Our class stays in touch and we still help each other with our business plans.”

Naming her business, The Way to Succulents, Wei is selling succulents retail and taking on décor projects such as interior landscaping, bridal/baby showers, and weddings; she even hosts classes on how to arrange and decorate with succulents. This fall, she is enrolled in the Small Business Innovation Accelerator program to help fine-tune her business plan. 

As if that is not enough, Wei and her husband are also building a greenhouse in Neenah. She hopes the added space will let her focus on wholesale succulents. She also wants to create a garden for customers to enjoy.

“As I was building my business, I did some research on how plants can help others, so I emailed the National Alliance on Mental Illness,” Wei says. “Within days, I received a reply with a dozen links to research that shows how plants help people; you take care of them, love them, and have a responsibility for them.

“We want to create a beautiful garden at our greenhouse so that no matter – whether you are happy or unhappy – you can visit and find happiness.” 

FVTC’s E-seedTM Express helps start-ups and early-stage entrepreneurs create management and planning tools for their businesses.
Participants get insight into legal, management, marketing, accounting and financial aspects of running a business.

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