Entrepreneur Stu Potter isn’t driven by money or world domination, rather his passion to start a business came from a desire to create more opportunities for rangatahi in his hometown of Gisborne and showcase to the world just what Kiwi are capable of.
“I guess StardustME grew out of a want to do something that hadn’t been done before in New Zealand, and the desire to inspire others to think big. We were stargazing one night on a camping trip in Tairāwhiti, and we started talking about space and under-utilised payloads – which is essentially the empty space inside a rocket when it goes into orbit. I wanted to create a company with a focus on sustainability and innovation and the idea of sending people’s ashes into space seemed to tick both those boxes.”
The first company of its kind in New Zealand and one of only three in the world, StardustME takes a portion of a loved one’s ashes and encloses them into a specially designed memorial token, this token is then placed into a rocket, and generally orbits earth for around five years. During this time family members can track the ashes via an app. When the rocket re-enters earth’s atmosphere, it flares as it burns, similar to a shooting star, leaving no waste in space. It’s an idea that’s resonated with many Kiwi looking to honour their loved ones in a unique way.
“We’d come off the back of COVID and there was a high demand for cremation and a high demand for virtual ceremonies and memorial services. It was then I thought that space could be used as a continuum to connect people through technology. Through research and existing connections I had in the funeral industry, I realised that consumers were looking for different ways to honour their loved ones’ past.”
From concept to cosmos
Having a good idea is one thing but turning it into a viable business is another. Stu says It took years of research and development testing to, quite literally, get the company off the ground.
“As with anything related to space, there’s a long lead in time. You’re looking at a three to five year window of research and development testing, refining, compliance, and then you’ve got all the launch logistics.”
Creating a relationship with SpaceX and highlighting the success of a similar business in the USA, gave StardustME the initial leverage to prove the logistics were safe and the business proposal was viable.
“You can appreciate we had to show that we were dealing with families in a respectful way. It was a big challenge but it came back to our relationships with our partner the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand, and having host funeral sites both here in New Zealand and the States.”
Early on in his business journey, Stu’s belief in the StardustME concept was further validated when his cousin passed away.
“My cousin was living in Australia when he passed, but we grew up together in Whakatane. At the time our family couldn’t get his ashes back into the country because of COVID restrictions and therefore he was never able to get the memorial service he should have. I approached his family with the idea of sending his ashes up as our inaugural launch, and they agreed, now we can watch him weaving through the stars in the evening sky.”
Another challenge of launching the business was the cost. As a self-funded company, solid connections with like-minded companies was critical in turning conversation into mutual opportunity. This was where Kea Connect helped Stu to not only network with the right companies in New Zealand, but expand their horizons in overseas markets.
“Working in a small business can be very isolating, scary and lonely, and sometimes you just need someone positive and optimistic with a really good outlook to talk to. Kea Connect helped me to be more focused on where we are trying to get the business overseas.
“Kea connected me to the right people overseas that could give me their evaluation of how things are in the markets we wanted to enter without having to deal with all the costs that are associated with market research.”
Having successfully completed two launches and now validated in the New Zealand market, StardustME expanded to Australia in late 2023. Their focus shifted to becoming an export business, with plans to grow in Australia before exploring other markets.
Stu also aspires to bring jobs in the space industry closer to home and for it to coincide with the work StardustMe is already doing.
“I want to showcase that we can build a space community in Gisborne. I’m currently looking into how we can put that into action alongside StardustME.”
Kea Connect supported StardustME with connections in Australia, enabling them to officially launch their business there in late 2023.