An Iowan who invented a device to save newborn pigs from being crushed by their mothers was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Matthew Rooda and partner Abraham Espinoza won Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge for their startup business, SwineTech Inc., which makes the device that saves piglets.
It’s the third time in four years an Iowa entrepreneur has won the contest. The SwineTech team, led by Rooda and Espinoza, beat three other finalists from across the nation. Their startup business took home a total of $30,000 in prize money, including $15,000 from sponsor John Deere. Over 450 applicants entered the contest.
SwineTech uses technology to monitor sows to reduce piglet mortalities in farrowing facilities. The Iowa Farm Bureau mentored the entrepreneurs, who presented their business model in front of a live audience and judges on stage in the IDEAg Trade Show at the recent AFBF convention.
Piglets saved by sound
SwineTech, based in Cedar Rapids, designed the device that listens for the distressed squeals of piglets in danger of getting squished. Then it delivers a vibration to get the mother sow moving. In recent months, SwineTech has worked on improving and redesigning the technology.
When the system was first invented, the sow wore a belt. Now, it’s a patch applied to the sow’s skin. And rather than shocking the sow immediately, it starts with a vibration. If that doesn’t move the sow, it delivers a mild shock to get her to stand up.
“While the strength of the shock has been decreased, it still works,” Rooda says. It used to be comparable to a dog’s shock collar; the patch now delivers a buzz about two-fifths of that strength.
SwineTech has raised about $1.3 million from investors and an additional $300,000 in grants. It will open another round of funding later this year. The technology recently finished university tests and is being used by three corporate hog farms, including two of the nation’s biggest pork producers.
SwineTech had $100,000 in sales last fall. For now, Rooda plans to stick with current customers as the company perfects the technology before moving to a wider rollout. “We’re still in the beta phase, testing and tweaking,” he adds.
SwineTech started working on this device in summer 2015, so it’s just been over a year and a half in development. “We plan to commercialize the product this fall,” Rooda says. “The next big step is manufacturing. We’re working with a firm in Cedar Rapids. We want to get everything ready so when we launch, we have solid information and data for producers, to help them make the decision to get onboard with our technology.”
‘Fitbit for pigs’
In addition to saving pigs from being crushed, “we found we can use the technology to do health tracking and become the Fitbit for pigs,” Rooda says. “We can let farmers know if their sows are healthy or not, and give farmers helpful insight to better manage their herd.”
Another idea SwineTech wants to develop with this technology is to provide farmers with heat-mapping, Rooda says, “so they can see exactly where the cold spots and inefficiencies are within their facilities. We also want to get better documentation with our Fitbit health tracking technology.”
That digital documentation would provide additional benefits for livestock farmers, he notes. “For example, we want farmers to be able to better document the use of antibiotics in livestock. Consumers are concerned about how their food is being produced. We can help farmers with that, so they don’t have to worry about losing a market if for some reason there is a question about antibiotic use.”
Source: AFBF, SwineTech