It’s been “a really progressive year,” says Parting Stone founder Justin Crowe. Last September, Crowe was one of 15 teams in the 2018 bizMIX competition, and finished up with the top prize for his business, which transforms cremated remains into solid objects.
Just one year later, Parting Stone has recently closed a $500,000 funding round and is heading toward a launch next month. “It feels huge,” he says, “the amount of support we’re getting as well as the amount of resources we have now, and a lot of that is local investors who have really been believing in us.” And the money is needed, he says, because “we’re ready to grow.”
Crowe’s company has entered a test market, and is working with five funeral homes in Chicago selling to its customers, has rented a lab space in Santa Fe, hired two production employees along with a director of operations, is about to hire a customer service representative, and is looking for new employees (contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in learning more).
Last year, Parting Stone worked with a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program—which provides companies with technical and scientific support—to work on the company’s technology. That technology, Crowe says, is now finalized. Previously referred to as “purified remains, the technology is now called solidified remains.” Instead of receiving ashes after cremation, customers receive a collection of stones. “It’s essentially the category,” Crowe says of the term “solidified remains.” And if competitors enter the marketplace, “they will operate under the category of solidified remains, which we created and set the rules for.”
Parting Stone has received a second grant, through NMSBA’s leveraged projects assistance, for $100,000 to study the environmental impact of scattering stones through the solidified remains process rather than ashes. While the study is a year and a half to two years away, Crowe says, “What we think we’re going to show is that ashes have a negative impact, and solidified remains are going to be environmentally neutral. I’m almost sure.”
Interest in Crowe’s product was evident from the get-go—Parting Stone began getting orders as soon as his company was profiled in local media. Through its work with local funeral homes in Chicago, Parting Stone has begun to hear from the first customers of its product. “They are the first people in history not to receive ashes after a cremation,” Crowe says, and they are “having a big emotional impact on the families” receiving them. For example, he recently received a letter from a customer who said she had been sharing the stones with family members, who had taken them on hikes and left them in places “that were special to her son.”
As such, Parting Stone is part of the vanguard of entrepreneurs disrupting the mostly unchanged death industry with an eye toward making it more sustainable and spiritual. “I really do feel that this is in line with the ethos of the death movement that is happening right now,” Crowe says, “and it’s going to have a big impact on funeral care changes in the next 10 years.”
Parting Stone’s success may look fast from the outside, but Crowe feels every minute of it. “I’ve been working on it for three years, so every step of the way is an immense amount of work. Although it looks fast, I’m sure there’s a Big Sean lyric about this in one of his rap songs, it doesn’t feel fast.” he says.
Prior to BizMIX, Crowe says he was almost ready to scrap the idea. He had come to the project through his background in ceramics (he has a BFA from Alfred University), an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep interest in exploring humanity’s relationship to mortality. But he hadn’t, prior to bizMIX, landed on the right way to create a product that solved the problems he saw with traditional cremation.
“BizMIX was huge,” Crowe says of his experience in the accelerator. “We got our lead investor out of bizMIX, who introduced us to many more people within his network, so it helped our funding round. The publicity has helped us a lot. When I tell local investors we won bizMIX that always perks them up…bizMIX also gave me direction at a time when I wasn’t totally sure what the branding was going to be and what the marketing was going to be and what the product was going to look like. It got me really easily in front of hundreds of people to take in an immense amount of information and then craft a product design based on what was resonating with people.” He says he still uses his elevator pitch developed during bizMIX to explain his business.
This year’s bizMIX finalists will be honored at an awards ceremony at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 19 at Reunity Resources. When asked for any advice he would give this group of entrepreneurs, Crowe notes: “It’s fucking hard. You have to not get too down when things seem really tough and nothing is working. That’s often the moment the most profound things for the business surfaces.”
As for his own next steps, Crowe says he feels confident about the future. “My favorite emotion in life is simultaneously feeling scared and excited, and that’s how I feel right now and that’s how I feel at every moment and every step of creating a business. And I’m really excited for the next chapter for Parting Stone.”