Becs Bartells is the latest ecentre success story, taking out the top spot in the prestigious Idealog + Studio ZQ's 2019 Wool-ovation competition for her wool caskets. Her design for Strong Wool Caskets will now be developed as a product in the New Zealand Merino Company’s innovation space, Studio ZQ. She has also won a trip to San Francisco to meeting some key industry players and contacts that will help her further her concept.
Becs was named the grand winner of the competition after pitching her idea alongside 8 other finalists at Studio ZQ in Christchurch on Friday. In a four minute pitch to judges from Pāmu, Studio ZQ and Idealog she had to highlight the problem she was solving with her wool caskets, the market opportunity, the opportunity for wool, competitors, the potential for social and environmental impact, and her future plans.
Kick-starting the entrepreneurial journey with ecentre’s Sprint programme
Becs kick-started her entrepreneurial journey by taking part in ecentre’s Sprint programme in early 2018. As a designer and innovator she wanted to gain knowledge that would help her take ideas (which she has a long list of) and be able to assess what it takes to validate the market, develop a prototype and gain first customers.
“The ecentre has been awesome, not just the Sprint program, but the networking and the connections I’ve made have been invaluable, professionally and personally,” says Becs.
“My big takeaway from the ecentre is that it costs nothing to validate an idea. You can waste valuable time and money developing a product that there might not even be a market for. Performing some simple market validation can give you a yes or no as to whether you move forward or just leave it and move onto your next thing.”
“Sprint gave me a robust process for looking at ideas to work out which ideas had legs commercially, and which didn’t’. Speed really sums up the main benefit from Sprint for me - knowing how to run through the fundamentals of how to validate the market really does speed things up. Doing things right from the start and working out if your product or business idea has a good fit with a market can save a lot of time and potential frustration.”
An eco-friendly casket– a good idea?
Becs came up with her idea for an eco-friendly casket after the Sprint programme and used the knowledge she’d gained from the ecentre to assess her idea at speed.
“For the past year, I have been performing market validation within the funeral industry to see if there is an opportunity to design a casket that’s made from an eco-friendly alternative to MDF and wood. My original idea was to create one from cardboard, and from this stemmed the idea of using strong wool. Wool is commonly used for the liners and dressings of caskets. But why not make the entire casket from this?” says Becs.
“Wool has emotive attributes as it’s softer and provides a more comforting send off to the hardened and rigid aesthetics of a timber or MDF caskets. So a wool casket is not just a greener, eco-friendly solution. It has a more emotional appeal to the traditional caskets in the market, which can appear quite cold. Wool has strong, sympathetic qualities compared to that of wood and MDF.”
We are all trying to minimise our impact on the planet by recycling, being eco-conscious and reducing our carbon footprint, but what about when we die?
Becs says when it comes to funerals, we don’t often think about their impact on the environment. “The funeral industry has a very serious impact on the environment and that is something we should all be aware of.
“The casket/ coffin market is dominated by MDF. One tree is needed to manufacture 5 caskets. Cutting down a tree to make a casket which is only going to be buried or cremated, makes no sense.
“Wool Caskets offer an alternative to both materials and aesthetics - they are soft and sleek, easy on the eye, affordable, and leave no impact on the environment.”
Becs has reimagined the traditional casket with her NZ Strong Wool Casket design.
Becs’ Strong Caskets are more than an idea. She has tested caskets to 240kg and then to 320kg.
The funeral industry is a billion dollar industry. 2017, saw the highest number of deaths in NZ in 25 years. Figures from Statistics NZ, show there were 33,342 deaths in 2017.
“With an aging population and a growing death rate, there will always be a need for caskets. Strong Wool Caskets are uniquely different to caskets that are in the market, today and they offer an environmentally friendly alternative to MDF and timber caskets. They have unique product attributes that will appeal globally – and best of all they be made 100% kiwi designed and made from NZ wool, which is the best wool in the world,” says Becs.
Where to Next?
Becs will continue to work on design and product development, now with support from New Zealand Merino Company at Studio ZQ in Christchurch.
“I’m looking forward to making more mini-prototypes from cardboard and strongwool, and receiving input from the wool experts,” says Becs. “I’m of course also very excited about my trip to San Francisco, thanks to the Idealog and Studio ZQ, to meet some key industry players and contacts to help me get Strong Wool Caskets a step closer to the market.”
When she’s not thinking about Strong Wool Coffins, Becs is busy adding to her ideas list – so it’s safe to say this won’t be her last innovative venture.
For more on Becs Bartells’ design work see http://www.becsbartellsdesign.co.nz/