While growing up on a pig farm in Pella, Iowa, Matthew Rooda originally planned to become a doctor—specifically, an obstetrician. Toward that goal, he initially focused on genetics and biotechnology, becoming a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and a certified medication aide (CMA). He took a job as a farrowing manager on a large sow farm while attending Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, where he helped deliver thousands of piglets naturally and via Caesarean sections. After receiving an associate’s degree in liberal arts, he enrolled at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he shifted his emphasis from human to veterinary care.
Matthew’s farming experience gave him first-hand familiarity with a common industry problem: sows sometimes accidentally crush their piglets. In his junior year, he designed and validated the effectiveness of a system to help farmers better prevent, detect, and react to such incidents. Classmate Abraham Espinoza, who is originally from Mexico, helped develop software for the product, now known as SmartGuard. The two founded SwineTech to commercialize SmartGuard in 2015 after they got involved with the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa. Their work on SmartGuard earned the pair the 2017 $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in the “Eat it” category.
The co-founders are actively courting investors for SwineTech while completing their college studies. Matthew, SwineTech’s president and CEO, expects to receive a bachelor’s degree in enterprise leadership and pre-veterinary medicine in May 2017. Abraham, SwineTech’s vice president and COO, expects to receive a bachelor’s degree in computer science in December 2017.
Matthew and Abraham both have leadership and mentoring experience. Each held vice president-level positions in Phi Theta Kappa, the largest honor society for two-year colleges. They founded the Waterloo’s first-ever STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) club. Abraham is a founder and director of philanthropy for Iowa’s chapter of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. In Mexico, he also served as a volunteer coordinator for a successful gubernational campaign in Coahuila and—while still in high school—worked in real estate.
While SwineTech is barely two years old, it’s already earned multiple honors, including the top prize in the 2017 Cupid’s Cup Entrepreneurship Competiton. The team also won first prize in the International Business Model Competiton, the top prize in Future Founders’ U.Pitch Competition, and the Pappajohn Student Entrepreneurial Venture Competition, and was named National Entrepreneur of the Year by the Entrepreneur Organization, all in 2016.