OSKALOOSA — Matthew Rooda's family did not want him to go into hog farming when he was a child. Instead, those relatives who had been involved in hog farming themselves hoped the now-senior at the University of Iowa would chose a different career path.
“They always told me not to work in hogs,” Rooda said, recalling the advice of his grandfather, an Oskaloosa hog farmer, and his dad, who worked at Mahaska Pork. “They said, 'We want something different for you.'"
Rooda chose to study business management at the University of Iowa, but he has now found himself in the business of hogs—albeit not raising them. Instead, he's saving them during maybe their most vulnerable point in life.
Rooda is the inventor of SwineTech, and along with his two partners, Abraham Espinoza and John Rourke, he is helping prevent the deaths of piglets who could be crushed to death by their mother.
Rooda developed SwineTech to save the lives piglets who are being crushed when a sow lays down in a pen and accidentally sits on one of her piglets.
The device consists of a shock belt that is attached to a sensor that picks up audio sound waves of piglet squeals. Once being crushed, the piglet squeals in a different pitch and tone than a normal squeal, Rooda said. The unique pitch and tone triggers the device to shock the sow, which then causes the sow to stand up, saving the piglet.
“A couple of years ago, I was managing a farm in Waterloo and this issue came up,” Rooda said. “It was probably 1,000 piglets crushed to death per quarter. I knew how to solve [the problem], but I didn't know how to do the engineering.”
SwineTech is still in the development and testing phase, but Rooda and his partners have been improving on the first prototype, which was unveiled in October of 2015. The product has been tested at various hog farms across the state with much success, Rooda added, and positive responses from farmers.
The shock belt system is waterproof, and does not deliver enough of an electrical shock to hurt the sow, Rooda said.
Rooda, a Pella Christian High School graduate, has been talking about the product at a wide range of events and places, and has entered numerous contests for college entrepreneurs and innovators.
Rooda was recently honored by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global network connecting more than 12,000 business owners in more than 50 countries, and won the 2017 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) U.S. National Finals.
GSEA is a global competition for students who own and operate a for-profit business while attending college or university classes. Rooda participated in the competition from March 6-7 in Kansas City.
As the national winner, Rooda received a $10,000 cash prize and will attend the GSEA global finals in Frankfurt, Germany in April to represent the U.S. in competing against the top student entrepreneurs from around the world. The winner of the global finals will be named the EO Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year and will receive a $20,000 cash prize, as well as invaluable in-kind business services provided by EO members.
SwineTech has pending patent applications for both the United States and international avenues, Rooda said, adding that more testing will be done at five pilot farms in the coming months. The farms offer challenges such as different numbers of hogs, varying genetic lines and alternate management styles or systems, he said.
“We're focusing on making it perfect and fine tuning it,” he said. “I started with a few farmers I knew and tested it out. The real moment, the tipping point, was last July. Farmers really want this and they're going crazy. Right now, we're doing purchase orders.”
Although his family told him not to get involved in the hog farming business, Rooda said he has found immense satisfaction with the development of SwineTech.
“It's kind of nice when it comes to helping people. It is creating jobs and [more] profits,” he said. “It's great to be able to contribute.”