2022 Michigan Business Challenge Spotlight – WILD

Shannon Beeman
February 10, 2022

MBC Seigle Impact Track Spotlight

The Michigan Business Challenge (MBC) takes participants through the entire cycle of new venture creation from creating a strong pitch to conducting a marketing and financial assessment and writing a comprehensive business plan. University of Michigan student entrepreneurs are one step closer to over $100,000 in cash prizes. Meet these innovative Wolverines in our spotlight series.

Startup Description

Maura McInerney-Rowley Michigan Ross Zell Lurie InstituteWILD alleviates the burden (and reduces the friction) typically involved in handling a loved one’s affairs after they have passed. Our personalized funeral plans and easy-to-use platform empowers families to save time, money, and stress. Founded by Maura McInerney-Rowley, Michigan Ross MBA ’22.

What was the origin of this venture? How was the problem or opportunity discovered?

Maura faced reality and the possibility of death at five years old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After that, Maura watched as her mother continued to battle and beat breast cancer throughout her childhood until her mother passed right before her 21st birthday.

Maura struggled to navigate friends, work, and school while managing her grief, but she found momentary solace in a student grief group on campus. As time passed, Maura’s friends started to experience losses of pets, colleagues, grandparents, etc. Having gone through the experience before, she was able to empathize and help them navigate through their grief.

Last summer, Maura attended a friend’s wedding, where the night before, a guest of the wedding died. The death was unexpected and traumatic, which made Maura think about how the family would navigate their grief, let alone the logistics of it all. The day after the wedding, Maura flew to Alaska and spent the next week hiking in the backcountry contemplating the recent loss and reflecting on the loss of her mother.

One day as she was climbing the face of a rock in 30mph winds, 40-degree weather, and torrential rain, she noticed a beautiful purple flower (later identified as a harebell) standing steady. She thought to herself how magnificent this tiny thing was, so resilient in these extreme conditions all by itself. As she stopped to look at the flower, the rain started to dissipate, and a clearing in the sky let through the most magnificent sun-drenched view of Denali. Maura paused briefly, sat down in awe of her surroundings, and thought about how peaceful it would be to have your final moments in a place like this.

Days later, she returned to business school at The University of Michigan and was prompted to develop a business idea in her New Venture Creation class. It was then that the initial concept for WILD was born.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of launching your venture?

In the long-term WILD aims to have three positive effects on society; (1) social, (2) environmental, and (3) financial.

First, studies show that talking about your mortality makes you happier. By changing the discourse on death and dying, WILD empowers individuals to talk and plan for end-of-life. Second, by offering unique and eco-friendly solutions, WILD will help combat climate change and reduce the harmful effects traditional burials and cremation have on the environment. Third, by focusing on radical transparency and easy-to-access information, tools, and resources, WILD will help reduce predatory practices in the funeral industry and save individuals money.

How did you form your team?

I am a solo founder with a fantastic group of mentors and interns supporting me. I am currently seeking a tech co-founder.

How has participation in MBC helped move your venture forward?

Competing in the Michigan Business Challenge has been incredibly helpful in moving my venture forward. The competition deliverables have kept me engaged, challenged, and accountable. Furthermore, the mentorship I have received from the staff at the Zell Lurie Institute, the feedback from judges, and the community of entrepreneurial peers have all helped me critically evaluate and update my business proposal. Having made it to the finals of MBC, I am confident in my ability to address investors and seek fundraising. It takes a lot of work to start a company! You must be comfortable asking for help, receiving negative feedback, and tackling ambiguous challenges.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the MBC experience (so far)?

Following MBC, I will continue to build WILD to help people during one of the most challenging times of their life. I plan to participate in phase three of the Eugene Applebaum Dare to Dream grant program and conduct an independent study on the topic of death and dying with Ross Professor Dr. Marcus Collins, an award-winning marketer, and cultural translator.

What are your plans following MBC? How would prize money help your venture?

If I win MBC, I will use the prize money to build an MVP to test with users.

What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?

Join Twitter and DM me (@mauraball_) once you have.

2022 Michigan Business Challenge Finals 

Learn more about these impact-driven University of Michigan student startups by following the 2022 Michigan Business Challenge Finals on February 11 on ZLI social media. Cheer for your favorite team during the MBC final presentations and applaud the winners!