University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here.


The Swineguard team, with CEO Matt Rooda in front, accepts 'best business opportunity' at the demo day for Venture School's summer accelerator. (Photo via Venture School on Facebook)

The Swineguard team, with CEO Matt Rooda in front, accepts ‘best business opportunity’ at the demo day for Venture School’s summer accelerator. (Photo via Venture School on Facebook)

Swineguard went from idea to accelerator in a matter of months.

It was just earlier this year when Matt Rooda, Swineguard’s CEO and a former junior at the University of Iowa, was dreaming up a device that would help protect very young piglets from being crushed in farrowing facilities.

By August, Rooda had assembled a team, developed his business model, and was taking a hiatus from school to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 class.

“[Being accepted] kind of gave us more belief in ourselves, that maybe what we have is something pretty good,” Rooda said.

Pork farmers around the world are feeling pressure as the increasing global population pushes demand for meat higher. Every piglet that dies at a young age is a missed opportunity.

The young founder saw the problem first hand when he was working as an assistant farm manager at a pork facility. Swineguard is prototyping a device that would be installed in farrowing crates. When a sow started to lay on one of her piglets, producing a prolonged squeal, the device would deliver a gentle shock that would prod her to stand up again.

Rooda heard of a summer program at the UI, and soon Swineguard was one of 11 teams in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s summer edition of Venture School, which was just for students. He recruited three friends to become co-founders, who went out in the field to meet with farmers and veterinarians and refine their business model canvas.

By the end of the summer, the team had been awarded ‘best business opportunity’ by Venture School, picked up some prize money, and was being personally recruited by the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Since the official application period had already closed, the students had just a few hours to decide if they really wanted to leave school and commit full-time to Swineguard.

“My parents looked at it as, ‘you need that education.’ So I looked my dad in the eyes and said, ‘Do you believe in the product?’” Rooda said. “He said, ‘100 percent.’”

Since they joined the accelerator, Swineguard has hired an engineer to develop their prototype, found farms willing to be their first test sites, and contacted universities about doing academic research on the technology.

The founders said that Venture School prepared them well for the accelerator.

“Everything seemed to always fall into place over the last six months,” Rooda said. “Whenever we needed something, it was there. So it just felt right.”


One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – find the rest here.