Home burials. Trees instead of gravestones. Funeral concierges. Every industry, it seems, will find itself at some point upended by new ideas; even death, the most stagnant of concepts and most resistant to technological innovation.

Enter Santa Fe entrepreneur Justin Crowe. Last year, I interviewed Crowe about his startup, Parting Stone, which was aiming to revolutionize the busy cremation industry.

Parting Stone founder Justin Crowe has launched his company offering a new technology for human and animal remains.
Parting Stone founder Justin Crowe has launched his company offering a new technology for human and animal remains. | Courtesy of Parting Stone

How busy? According to Crowe, 1.5 million people are cremated each year in the United States, along with two million pets.

Crowe's business instincts have proven apt. Last month, he launched Parting Stone with $500,000 in angel investments, a slew of awards and a growing list of partners, fans and customers.

The 31-year-old's vision was born of his own profound response to his grandfather's death, and his desire to find a way to allow people to remain meaningfully connected to their loved ones.

Parting Stone takes human and animal ashes, filters them for contaminants (staples, screws, implants) and transforms the remains into solid stones. A grant from the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program provided Crowe access to a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist when he was working on his technology (which Parting Stone is in the process of patenting). Those solidified remains now constitute, Crowe says, a new category of human remains. The company has received a second grant to study the environmental impact of its technology (it also was the top winner in the 2018 bizMIX competition).

Parting Stone does not perform cremations, but works directly with funeral homes and crematoriums. The company initially piloted solidified remains with five funeral homes in Chicago. Since launching a month ago, Parting Stone has received requests from 150 funeral homes around the country, "looking to offer this option to their customers," many with multiple locations, bringing the total number of locations Parting Stone is preparing to serve to 250.

"The funeral industry historically ignores innovation, and so this was not the route that we expected to go," Crowe says, "but the industry is really celebrating this, which has been shocking to everyone involved and really exciting."

Individual sales to customers living with remains also is going well, he says. "We have revenue. The lab in Santa Fe is full of remains we're processing."

Parting Stone has posted testimonials from early customers, including Garth Clark, who lived with his parents' ashes for two decades. The stones, he says in the video, have been "transformative … Somehow, the idea of your parents turning into rock is a transfer of human life into nature, which is sort of exciting."

This market, the "at home" group of people living with remains, includes approximately 20 million people in the US, Crowe notes.

"There's an immense amount of anxiety surrounding cremated remains," he says, "Seeing the bone fragments is one. It also has to do with them being messy: Funeral directors will glue the lids onto urns because people are so afraid of spilling them. And that's such a tragic experience, that one of our most treasured possessions has to be hidden and concealed."

Crowe's vision also resonated with investors such as Meow Wolf co-founder Corvas Brinkerhoff, who invested $50,000 in Parting Stone.

"First and foremost, I think Justin is really brilliant and I completely believe in him and his vision and I think he can change the world," Brinkerhoff says. That change strikes hard at an issue "we really struggle with in our culture. We have an aversion to death, and we have an inability as a culture often to talk about it in a healthy way. What he's creating is a product that will help people process death in a more healthy and real way."

Brinkerhoff says he almost hesitates "to use the word product in the sense that this isn't a product you go buy at the store; this is an extremely meaningful one-of-a-kind object that is designed to help you connect with some of the most important feelings you'll ever have in your life … the connection with your past loved ones."

Those loved ones include pets: Parting Stone also piloted with the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, which keeps a sample box at its admissions desk to show people.

"I love it," shelter Public Information Officer Murad Kirdar says. "I think this is a great way to take your animal remains and make it a beautiful keepsake stone that you can keep forever."

Crowe says his main response to the success of the last year is "pure gratitude for the support we've received, not only from the economic development initiatives of New Mexico but also the angel investors … all of that has enabled us to launch this company."

He also sees how his company fits into a larger industry disruption.

"Clearly the public is asking for a change in death care right now," he says. "They are asking for a more intimate relationship with it. They're asking to be more involved with it."

Justin Crowe will speak about his entrepreneurial journey founding Parting Stone (partingstone.com) at Kick-Ass Entrepreneur Storytime, 6:30 pm Tuesday, Nov. 19 at The Alley Santa Fe, 153 Paseo de Peralta, 557-6789.