A Gisborne business built around a surprising synergy of the technology, space and funeral sectors has rocketed from start-up into outer space. StardustME provides space memorial flights to celebrate life. Ashes are launched into orbit onboard SpaceX rockets to be placed amongst the stars and ultimately seed the birth of new stars.

Gisborne founder Stu Potter has been working with the Trust’s business growth advisors since StardustMe was a new and ambitious concept.

“It came off the back of thinking of reducing waste and opportunities for this within the space industry, knowing that inside rockets there is a whole bunch of unused space. I wanted to do something innovative that involved the space-tech industry, but here from Tairāwhiti,” Stu explains.

He’s spent the last five years better understanding the three industries, the ecosystems around each and the key players. While connecting with the funeral care industry was relatively straightforward, space tech was much more challenging.

Around this time, Stu brought on the company’s first shareholder and co-founder, Geoff Lamb, an old university friend and surf buddy who also happens to be a rocket engineer.

“We were on a camping trip with our families at Anaura Bay, and I sold him on my crazy idea. Getting Geoff on board was a coup for our team. He has a pragmatic, engineering brain with the skills to develop hardware and good links within the rocket industry.”

They designed a space-grade alloy memorial token that can be filled with a small portion of ashes. The token is sent to Cape Canaveral in Florida or Vandenberg in Los Angeles and launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It orbits the Earth for up to 10 years before finally re-entering the Earth's atmosphere as a shooting star leaving no residual space junk. A mobile tracker lets family and friends follow the journey through the stars.

The inaugural StartdustMe launch was in February 2023, with the next scheduled for October 2023. There has been plenty of interest from customers around the world wanting to do something meaningful to commemorate a loved one.

“We’ve made it affordable and can connect people worldwide for a unique memorial service, watching the launch digitally and tracking its movement in space. The technology enablement has been a critical part of StardustMe.”

Stu says the support from the Trust’s business growth advisors since the early days has been invaluable.

“Having people you can talk to in confidence about your idea has been key. It’s one thing having a crazy idea, but you need to be able to share it with people you trust. They’ve provided support on how to grow the idea and given lots of advice around capability development, networks and potential funding opportunities.”

The desire to innovate was a big motivation for Stu, as well as creating opportunities in Tairāwhiti for Tairāwhiti. 

“I want kids from here to be able to do exciting things and have new career opportunities they can grow within our region. At so many times throughout this venture, it would have been easy to give up, but overcoming the challenges gave me more drive and vigour to make this succeed.”