Matthew Rooda

Saving the Pigs – How AgTech Entrepreneurship is Saving Lives

If you had an idea and were asked to take time off school, give up all your resources, couch surf and spend your time attempting to fundraise millions of dollars – would you do it? Matthew Rooda did in 2015 when he and his co-founder started forward with an idea to automate swine care and the current health care industry through agricultural technologies that weren’t developed as of yet. The result was admittance into an accelerator program, a semester off from school, investors, development, and a new business – SwineTech

Where it Began

“I was pre-med, literally the opposite,” says Matthew. “It was a very interesting decision.” 

Managing a sow farm in Iowa during college, Matthew had the conceptual idea for Swine Tech based on an experience of pain from his current role. Labor management issues and piglet deaths were the key issues. One hundred and sixty million piglets die worldwide due to being crushed by their mother. Another one hundred and ten die from a lack of timely care during the birthing process. Simultaneously, many sows get sick during birthing and there wasn’t enough staff to know every detail or be able to be present for all births. 

Matthew thought technology can get us to that point. 

Accelerator Program

An accelerator program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had a few thousand dollars in grant money for students doing “cool stuff.” Matthew’s idea for SwineTech definitely fit under that type and after sketching out the initial plan for the business he was named the winner. 

Right off the bat, a professor and mentor told him that he couldn’t do both pre-med and SwineTech. He made the decision to stick with his gut and entrepreneurial endeavors. What Matthew truly wanted in a career was to push the barriers while also expressing creativity. 

The accelerator program offered: 

  • Value in connections 
  • Education on running a business 
  • Education on ag technology

At the same time, the accelerator program presented a terrifying thought: drop out of college. It wasn’t for long term, in fact it was just a semester, but stepping away from school for the semester allowed Matthew the opportunity to set his goals and sights on exactly how he could invest his tuition dollars for the most success. From that moment, in fall of 2015, he knew that they were all in! 

The What Ifs? 

In looking back at friends that went straight into the workforce, Matthew says that there are a few noticeable differences. Those friends are currently owning homes instead of renting apartments or even potentially couch surfing at a friends’ place. Simultaneously, Matthew has been able to travel the world to see how the industry is moving and how to communicate that. Trips to Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, South American and more are all a part of the process of the growth and development of SwineTech and how they can continue to be on the cutting edge of AgTech to better serve the swine industry. 

What is SwineTech?

An animal health company focused on improving labor inefficiencies in pig farms and, as a side effect, limiting piglet deaths. The birthing environment for both piglets and their moms is greatly improved, saving piglets from being crushed by the sow. 

Labor Efficiencies

Producers also save on labor costs with SwineTech with improved efficiencies in care for the animals, making it possible for fewer people to do more work. They can actually eradicate 90% of the labor on a day-to-day basis. 

Sustainability Improvements

The improvement of productivity also leads to environmental improvements and sustainability. Whether a sow has five piglets or eight, she is still going to need the same amount of water, manual labor, food, and care. By improving that survival rate by even one piglet per litter, they are improving the efficiency of the water needed to raise pork by 8-9% alone. When it comes to the environment, there are a lot of ways that SwineTech is impacting the sustainability of the industry. 

Biggest Milestones

 

  • Raising our first round of money.
    “It’s never great taking on funding,” says Matthew but, when you are developing a tech product with four or five items that have never been done before, you are going to have to. 
  • Hiring an employee.
    With so much to do, being able to bring on an employee that has skills that your team doesn’t currently possess but could definitely use is huge. “In fact,” says Matthew, “I wish I would have [hired] sooner!” Being able to delegate and pass on different hats to those that specialize in those projects are huge in the growth of your company. 
  • First pig saved. 
  • First customer served.
    It never goes as you expect but it has a huge impact on your company. 
  • Saving the 1,000,000 pig!
    Saving one million pigs means that we are overseeing a million pigs and that we are protecting them all. We can reduce crushing by as much as 80% in some cases, but on average 41%.

 

Entrepreneurship

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths: 

  • “I really like going out and identifying the opportunities that exist and then structuring the milestones that we need to accomplish that vision.” 
  • Traveling the world and seeing how the industry is moving. 
  • Communicating our industry story. 

Weaknesses: 

  • “I enjoy the process, but not putting that process into place.” 

Having a Co-Founder

Abraham Espinoza was added to the team, one of Matthew’s best friends, as a co-founder of the project and the two work seamlessly together. A computer science and engineering student originally from Mexico, the two are almost opposites but bring forth great knowledge and different perspectives to the growth of SwineTech. 

Being young, they may have had obstacles stacked against them but they never noticed. Not bringing forward the most “sexy” of technological advancement ideas to investors, they were bringing in something completely different and that caught the eyes of investors. In fact, they have been recognized as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 most promising companies in Manufacturing & Industry, and received awards from MIT, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the American Farm Bureau Federation for its innovative product, SmartGuard. 

Best Advice: 

“Never constrain yourself on resources to the point where you can’t make the decisions you need to, to make the business successful,” is one key line of advice that Matthew received from an Uncle. 

The other mantra that the SwineTech team leans on is to “be open minded.”

“You can surround yourself with so many people that can help you through so many issues, as long as you don’t think that you know all the answers,” Matthew explains. 

To learn more about SwineTech and contact Matthew or Abraham, check out their website at www.swinetechnologies.com

Make sure to subscribe to the AgGrad YouTube Channel to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture and follow along on the special “30 Under 30 in Agriculture” series!

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Katie Schrock
katie.schrock@thatwesternlife.com
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