A business pitch to preserve cremated remains as ceramic art won a Fulton college student enough money to cover startup costs.
Paige Brennecke, a freshman at Westminster College and William Woods University, pitched her business idea Tuesday for Cremation Creations and won the Callaway Chamber of Commerce's first Show Me Innovation Collegiate Pitch Competition. The small business will create ceramic art and color it with glaze incorporating cremated remains.
"I definitely wasn't expecting it," Brennecke said about winning the competition and $2,000. "It's amazing -- I can't wait to get started."
From mobile latte art to organic beauty and health products, four student finalists from Lincoln University, Westminster and William Woods pitched a wide range of small business ideas to a panel of judges Tuesday. Most were focused on addressing needs they see in their community.
Urns are melancholy and burials are expensive, Brennecke pointed out as part of her pitch, so there's a market for a more charming way of keeping cremated ashes. She suggested the services could be offered for pet remains as well.
As the winner, Brennecke was awarded $2,000 to help cover startup costs for her new business. She said she'll use the funds to buy a pottery wheel, supplies and begin marketing her services.
As the sole employee, Brennecke would receive the customer's ashes via mail. She then creates the custom order, which can include pots, vases or nearly any other ceramic good, and mixes the ashes with glaze to color the ceramic items. Customers can choose any color and incorporate a design of their choice. She then mails them the finished product and any remaining ashes.
Cremation Creations will join a growing field of businesses finding creative uses for ashes, Brennecke said, such as companies that incorporate cremated remains into fireworks, trees, blown glass and diamonds.
Brennecke said it was a nerve-wracking experience to pitch her idea, but she was thankful for it.
"It's a relief," she said. "I did not know how I was going to do it before and now that I have the funds, I can really make it happen."
Brennecke's new business was one of several student-led projects addressing an unmet need in the community, said Lauren Carter, director of the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Lincoln.
"After sitting with the students and working on their pitches together and seeing how passionate they were about their ideas and businesses, it was almost mind-blowing," Carter said. "It was an amazing feeling to see them kind of go from having an idea to actually taking the steps to get it started."
Working through the Small Business Development Center, Carter helped coach students on how to pitch their ideas and form business models. Each student came up with the idea on their own before registering for the contest.
One of the first questions she asked was why they were doing it.
"The answers that we got were so real and they all had some real passionate motivators behind it, and it was usually life experience," Carter said.
Daelynn Stock, a student at William Woods University, saw a need for more mobile coffee options that are accessible to the deaf community in Fulton.
Lady Dae's, Stock's idea for a mobile cafe run out of a renovated horse trailer, won second place and she took home $1,000 for her new business.
Stock is studying American Sign Language and interpreting at William Woods and wants to use her ability to communicate with ASL to reach members of the deaf community who find traditional coffee venues difficult to navigate.
"With having the Missouri School for the Deaf in Fulton, there's a large deaf community, and I would like to open doors of accessibility for them through my business," she said.
Lady Dae's will begin serving Missouri-made coffee, Lotus natural energy drinks and custom latte art in Fulton later this year, Stock said. The mobile coffee shop will be equipped with a printer that creates custom images in latte foam, such as the customer's face.
Stock said she is still in the process of renovating the two-horse trailer she'll serve drinks out of and she'll use her $1,000 in winnings to buy signs and marketing material.
Brianna Kliethermes, small business liaison with the Callaway Chamber of Commerce, said it's exciting to help equip young entrepreneurs with the resources they need to start their business journey.
Kliethermes said the organization wanted to expand its typical innovation pitch competition and host a contest specifically for college students because of the number of ideas coming from young entrepreneurs.
"We just want to grow that mindset of entrepreneurship within our community," she said.
Kliethermes said she wants to make the collegiate pitch competition an annual event between Lincoln, Westminster and William Woods, and potentially expand to incorporate area high school students in another competition.