- Parting Stone turns cremated ashes into solidified remains in the shape of stones.
- Its founder Justin Crowe got his start bootstrapping his idea and applying for a grant.
- Parting Stone has completed 3,000 solidifications since its start in 2019.
In an effort to muster up interest in his deathcare startup, Justin Crowe of Santa Fe, New Mexico, found himself carrying a box of solidified human remains while doing the rounds at funeral industry conferences.
His goal was not only to garner the attention of funeral directors, the 30-year-old told Insider, but to ultimately provide their client base with an alternative to standard cremation in a more meaningful form they could touch, hold, and share.
“A lot of people were like, ‘This is weird. Who let this guy in and why is he here?'” Crowe said.
Yet despite receiving his fair share of eyerolls and shrugged shoulders, Crowe said several funeral directors were intrigued by the proprietary technology he’d developed in conjunction with a team of local material scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of a grant project. According to Crowe, the director from the Cremation Society of Illinois immediately began offering the option to his families in the Chicago area. Soon, multiple orders from that region began rolling in.
Since launching three years ago, Parting Stone, a company that turns cremated ashes into solidified remains in the shape of stones, has grown from two employees in a 100-square-foot room to 23 employees in an 8,000-square-foot laboratory. To date, its services are offered at 500 funeral homes nationwide, and it’s already completed 3,000 solidifications of humans, cats, and dogs. The company has raised around $2 million in funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Arrowhead Innovation Fund, and New Mexico Angels, according to Crunchbase.
The most recent annual statistics report issued by the Cremation Association of North America found that 2021 was an unprecedented year for cremations in the US, with cremation rates hitting a record high. The report projected demand to rise even further in the next 3 years — leaving companies like Parting Stone with even more opportunity for growth.
Crowe spoke with Insider about how he got his business off the ground and the process Parting Stone uses to give grieving customers a better alternative to ashes.
An idea, a grant, and a burgeoning startup
The idea for Parting Stone came to Crowe after his grandfather died in 2014. At the time, he was working as an operations manager and writer at CFile, a publication dedicated to contemporary ceramic art, and had managed to save $5,000 in the hopes of eventually starting his own business.
The more people Crowe spoke to about his loss, the more he learned how many were living with their departed loved ones’ and pet’s ashes stored in basements, garages, closets, and sock drawers. These types of discussions made him wonder: Was it possible that a new form of human remains could be invented that could give those grieving a deeper connection to their loved ones than a messy pile of ashes?
“Let’s face it: Ashes can be gross. They are unsightly, awkward to have out in the open, can be a mess if you choose to scatter them,” Crowe said. “For many, they are also a persistent form of guilt and frustration as one grapples with what to do with their loved ones’ ashes,” he added.
In 2019, after applying and being selected for a six-month grant to work with scientists at Los Alamos, he discovered the answer.
Post-grant and prior to launching Parting Stone, Crowe wrote for free for a leading deathcare publication and used the opportunity to build relationships within the industry. He bootstrapped the side hustle in the beginning, even paying for the first few orders out of his own pocket while the business was operating at a loss. Over time, after seeing the size of the potential market for customers, Crowe quit his day job in 2019 and began raising capital.
Helping people grieve with something more tangible than ashes
Parting Stone’s process for turning cremated remains into stones starts with removing contaminants such as medical implants, staples, and screws and gently refining the remains into powder. Using a small amount of binder to create a clay-like substance, the material is then compressed and placed into a kiln for solidification. Crowe said his work builds on processes from a variety of industries, including the pharmaceutical world, mineral processing, and ceramic manufacturing.
Each order Parting Stone receives is processed individually, Crowe said, as the company has a strict chain of custody protocols in place to ensure the integrity and accurate tracking of each decedent in its care. Families are notified via email at various stages in the solidification process so they’re able to track their loved one throughout the eight-week process. An average order yields a collection of 40 to 60 stones ranging from thumbnail to palm size. Solidifying human remains costs $595, while cats and dogs cost up to $295.
In addition to partnering with funeral homes, Parting Stone also offers solidification services directly on their website. Families receive a collection kit and ship the ashes to the lab in Sante Fe, where they’re transformed into solidified remains.
One of the most surprising outcomes Crowe and his team have discovered through the solidification process is that each stone comes out different.
“The bulk of the stones come out white, but we’ve seen variations ranging from pinks to chocolate brown to honey yellows and greenish blue, which becomes a special part of the experience,” he said.