Monday, January 24, 2022

Ask Matthew Rooda about crops, cows, or chickens, and you probably won’t get a reliable answer. But if you want to get the University of Iowa graduate’s bacon frying, talk to him about pigs. There will be plenty of sizzle in his reply.

“I can tell you everything in the world about pigs,” said Rooda, a fourth-generation pork producer from Pella, Iowa.  

He can also tell you about entrepreneurship and how lessons learned from the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Center (Iowa JPEC) helped his company, SwineTech, bring positive change to the animal agriculture industry. Rooda, Abraham Espinoza and John Rourke founded SwineTech in 2015 with a mission to create solutions that empower farmers to provide every food production animal with quality individualized care. 

“Iowa JPEC gave me a comfortable way to become exposed to entrepreneurship in a greater sense than, ‘I am starting this small business, but I have this big idea with a billion-dollar market opportunity, how do I even get started?’” Rooda said. 

SwineTech has mobile and web-based software that helps companies communicate goals and expectations to their team. In the end, results are evaluated so farmers can evolve their processes. 

On Thursday, Feb. 3, Rooda and Espinoza will be the first keynote speakers for Iowa JPEC’s Innovation and Inspiration Speaker Series at MERGE Iowa City. The event begins at 5 p.m. (CST). Rooda says his speech will highlight how to pivot and how to pivot well.

“It will be talking through what it means to create something, bring it to market, find success, find barriers, figuring out what do you know?” Rooda said. “It will bring a more transparent and authentic perspective to the students that they don’t often hear, which might be nice.”

Rooda is founder and chief executive officer of SwineTech, as well as the host for the Popular Pig podcast.

Rooda and Espinoza first met as students at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa. Rooda called it a life goal to attend the University of Iowa, so he transferred there to study genetics and biotechnology with the hope of being an obstetrician. After three years at Iowa, SwineTech began to take off, making labs and everything else you need to succeed as a premed major daunting. Rooda made an educational pivot and graduated in 2016 with a degree in enterprise leadership.

Before attending Hawkeye Community College, Espinoza graduated from Universidad Autonoma del Noreste Campus Saltillo in Coahuila, Mexico. Like Rooda, he switched his academic interests to enterprise leadership after studying computer science and mathematics when he first came to the University of Iowa. 

As chief operating officer of SwineTech, Espinoza has his fingers on the day-to-day business aspect of the company. Among other things, he works with the sales team, customer support, and engineering on how to more efficiently drive value to the customer business model. Espinoza found comfort within the Iowa JPEC community. 

“The main thing that sometimes gets overlooked is the ability to have access to a community of like-minded people who are basically focusing on their startups,” Espinoza said. “That way we have that ecosystem that we were not the only ones – there were older people going through the same challenges trying to build their own business and develop their own ideas and that was very helpful as you are starting. Especially at a college age – that was of great help. I had access to mentors and that community in itself.”

The Innovation and Inspiration Speaker Series begins Feb. 3 with a networking session open to the public. (Beverages and appetizers provided). Rooda and Espinoza begin their presentation approximately 30 minutes later at 5:30.