The Collegiate Inventors Competition® (CIC) brings together bright young minds from across the nation as it showcases the most creative students and serves as a launchpad for emerging inventors whose ideas have the potential to make an impact on the world.
Team SwineTech®, CIC’s 2017 Undergraduate Winner and Arrow Innovation Prize Winner, is making a meaningful mark on agriculture. Its winning invention, SmartGuard®, monitors the pitch, volume and duration of piglet squeals and determines whether a piglet is in distress or just squealing as piglets normally do. When a piglet is in distress, the device sends a vibration to a wearable patch on the mother, prompting her to stand and free her piglet. This technology reduces the costly loss of newborn piglets being accidentally crushed to death on hog farms.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) recently talked to Matthew Rooda, CEO and co-founder of SwineTech, to share the company’s progress since its win at CIC.
Addressing a Significant Problem
SwineTech began while Rooda and his CIC teammate and co-founder Abraham Espinoza were students at the University of Iowa. A program at the university called the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, where students were incentivized to bring their ideas forward to earn funding, provided resources to support their initial concept of using voice-recognition technology to save piglets from accidental death.
“This was a problem that I had experienced my entire life, ever since I was a kid, all the way through management of swine operations,” explained Rooda, who grew up working on his family’s farm as a fourth-generation pork producer.
Though people outside agriculture might not realize it, the problem of accidental crushing is a critical one. Rooda stated “210 million pigs [die] around the world every year just from their moms rolling on them, whether that's in a pasture or in a commercial farm.”
When the SwineTech team brought its invention to CIC in 2017, the team members were praised for their understanding of how to take their idea and turn it into a marketable reality.
“One thing that helped us was having a good grasp on the concepts that would make the invention a real business,” said Rooda. “And so that made us feel good, because it helped reassure us that we were doing the right things that it would take for us to be successful.”
When asked if he would encourage emerging inventors to get involved with CIC, Rooda responded, “I would absolutely recommend entering the Collegiate Inventors Competition. It's a great way to expand your network, expand yourselves and challenge yourselves, as well as get funding for your idea that can help bring it to the next level.”
Responding to Industry Needs
Following the team’s CIC win, SwineTech patented the SmartGuard system and has continued to invent and grow.
The company added PigFlow to its lineup to meet the need for improved piglet and sow care while supporting efficient workflow and increasing farm profitability.
“We built a software-based platform that could connect to these kinds of technologies [and] mimic patient management in healthcare to empower our people to more efficiently work with one another and provide higher-quality individualized care,” Rooda explained.
As the pandemic brought unprecedented challenges across industries, SwineTech used this time as a springboard for new opportunities.
“We had to pivot pretty substantially from a hardware product such as SmartGuard that saves pigs, to more of a software product focused on the broader aspects of labor management and quality of care for each animal,” he said.
With persistence and innovative thinking, SwineTech was able to continue empowering farmers while finding new ways to provide sow and piglet care.
“I urge inventors to not give up and be persistent, but also be willing to let go of your invention [...] to solve the broader problem that you set out to solve,” Rooda said. “You’ll always have what you built, but it doesn't mean what you built will always be what's most necessary. So be flexible, be resilient.”
Looking to the Future
In the future, SwineTech plans to expand its software offerings to cover every aspect of swine production, improve labor efficiencies and employee quality of life, and enable greater, more individualized care for each pig.
“We expect that as a company we will better facilitate the utilization and management of precision technologies in animal agriculture,” Rooda said. This includes taking computer vision and voice recognition, and individual animal wearable technologies, and making them more accessible and useful, even for individuals who have little or no experience in the industry.
Not only does SwineTech continue to position itself as an industry leader, but the company also considers how its technologies ultimately benefit consumers.
Rooda explained that because SwineTech’s platform can track and report on individual aspects of every animal, from birth to harvest, “consumers can have a clear understanding of where their food comes from and the various things that have happened along the way as that animal was raised.”
Enter the Competition
Are you an undergraduate or graduate student with an innovative idea of your own? We encourage you to learn more and submit your invention for this year's competition by visiting our website.