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Oct 12, 2016   |   The QEC
Last year, the duo of Iowa intellects from Swinetech walked away from Toronto with the QEC’s $10,000 second place prize sponsored by CIBC Asset Management. Matthew Rooda, Co-founder of the innovative venture, shares his key takeaways from the QEC 2016 below.
QEC: Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind your brand and product, and how you assembled your team?
Matthew: I really believe that whatever you throw your time into will become your passion. When I was working on the farm I was always finding easier/smarter ways of improving production. The inspiration came from my parents who told me to look into pursuing the idea, both sets of grandparents that ran businesses while dedicating time to their families and church, and the University of Iowa who gave me everything that I needed to get started. SwineTech was my way of playing a part in the industry, without having to be a farmer. It enabled me to help farmers in a serious way. There was a pain point that my family had faced, and this was something I could do that could change a lot of people’s lives. My dad always told me not to be a farmer, so I did the closest thing possible.
Did you have any business background that you wanted to apply that to your interests in farming?
I was/am an IBO for Amway, a marketing-distribution company in the US. There’s a lot of controversy around it, but it’s as credible as it gets. Amway as a whole really developed me to have the mindset of an entrepreneur, and that is why the book, “The Business of the 21st Century” by Robert Kiyosaki, says anyone looking to being an entrepreneur should join a network marketing company. It instilled in me the mindset of “go out and build something” and that you just have to give it everything that you got. I did that for about nine months, and then the opportunity for SwineTech came along, and obviously I ran with it. Then it seemed as if everything just kind of came together. Other than that, I worked on the farm and on the farm I always took the business perspective… how can we cut costs, how can we improve production. So I already had a business mindset, and I’ve taken a lot of business classes in college.
At which point on your entrepreneurial journey did the QEC enter your radar?
Everything kicked off in May and then we went through the University of Iowa’s Student Accelerator, which validated that this was a good business opportunity. During that process, we were recruited by the Iowa Startup Accelerator which we attended from August to November of 2015. So we pretty much went from full to part-time students in school for a semester. QEC came onto our Radar during the Iowa Startup Accelerator and we spent an entire day writing our business plan and pitched the video 20 minutes before the deadline. So we were working on SwineTech full-time for seven months before QEC.
How exactly did you find out about the QEC?
You guys are funny because one of the guys on your marketing team, or the guy who reaches out, said that he reached out to the top 25 universities for entrepreneurship, and Iowa was one of them. So he reached out to Iowa and all the other guys gave him a hard time and said “Iowa? They’re not going to have anything”. And then The University of Iowa sent out an email and said “Hey these guys are looking for competitors,” so we applied.
Do you have any advice for QEC hopefuls? (i.e. on how to get through the preliminary rounds?)
Your business plan/model is probably the most important. You need to find a way to get your plan to show your passion for what you are doing. It’s hard, because we were rushed on this one. We did this application in one day, so we wrote our business plan from scratch in one day and then did the video that same day. So it was crazy. But I would say, definitely put in the time to develop a good business plan, because it’s going to really pay off, whether you get accepted or not.
Going forward to the final weekend, can you recall some of the key points or ideas that your team was trying to get across in your presentation? Was there a way you guys presented your material to stand out from your competitors?
One memory from QEC… was that before we gave our presentations my business partner and I were preparing and it was obvious that I was the only one going in the room. One of the instructors were like “why aren’t you both going in? You should both go in”. However, we have always been told that you should only present with one person. When we looked around we found that we were one of four teams that only had one-person presenting. Then when the finalists were announced, four of the five teams only had one person presenting in the previous round. When one person gets all the responsibility, it comes off more professional. If one person knows every aspect of their business, the judges trust in that one person who can get the job done without needing their team around them.
In a past presentation, we didn’t mention how on organic farms this is an even larger problem. We just said that it happened on “farms” and that our target was corporate farms. We got a lot of push back from people who don’t like corporate farming, who would say “oh it’s corporate farming, that’s why there’s a problem”. So we stepped back and realized okay, we need to redraw the problem as a whole, so people realize that this isn’t just happening on corporate farms. It’s actually a huge problem and it’s happening on organic farms as well, but that’s just not our target market. And that helped. So not limiting your introduction to the problem you’re addressing but expanding it to the entire problem, even if it’s a part you can’t address.
What kind of feedback did you receive from the judges? Did it change how you decided to present in the later rounds?
[The judges] told us to dive a lot more into the financials. And that was something we had always just glossed over. I would say that if someone truly wants to win and put themselves ahead of everyone else, you need to have a really good concise, detailed financial part of the presentation. They said that was a problem they had the year before as well. So more financial information, and those teams are going to shine.
Have you been able to use any of the feedback you’ve gotten from judges and apply it to SwineTech after you left QEC?
One of the judges was talking to us about team building and what to look for when working with a team and all that sort of stuff, and that really helped. We got a breakout session with Michael Hyatt, and we learned a lot from him.
For you, what was the most impactful part of the weekend?
Definitely networking. There were other competitors that gave us advice on things we could do. Networking was definitely the best part.
If you had to attribute Swinetech’s ongoing success to one thing, what would it be?
Being open-minded. Being willing to leave all the ego behind, and realize that everyone is where they are for a reason and they probably have good advice. At the same time, being realistic and not allowing yourself to be biased about something, or letting other people be biased for you about your idea. We always told people that the reason our presentation was good was because we would have sessions with advisors and would sit down and say “we want you to be as critical as possible. Anything you don’t like, we want to know what it is”. And we’d get really critical feedback, and it really really helped us. So I think telling people to be super critical so you can learn, and they don’t have to worry about offending you was super helpful.
Can you give us an idea of what might be next for SwineTech in the coming months or years?
So for the next couple months, we just hired a few more engineers and we are in the late stages of final product development, which we will then want to really link the field trials to. We’re getting behavioural trials back in the next month, which will be good. And then we’ll be launching next spring and so everything is pretty good. We’ll be raising a Series A round of funding this Fall and that will consume a lot of my time. Then in the next year, we have a lot of farms that are interested, like big farming companies. They are just kind of waiting to see how the trials go, so we might be able to grow pretty quickly, if these trials come out pretty healthy.
On a more personal note, how has being an entrepreneur helped you develop either personally or professionally?
It’s helped a lot. So my biggest challenge I’ve ever faced was when I was working on the farm, I got promoted and took the job of a 45-year-old lady who has been working for 30 years in the area, and she was demoted and worked as my assistant. Learning to work with others, and not be a manager, but to be a leader was extremely hard. With entrepreneurship, I’ve learned a great deal about how to do that – how to be a leader within an organization and how to really get everyone to wrap their heads around an idea, group together, and go for it. I’ve learned a great deal about how to communicate better, better network myself. I’ve learned so much that even if this thing were to fail miserably at the end, it would have still been the best thing I could have done.
If you had to point out one key characteristic or skill that all entrepreneurs share, what would it be?
I think everybody is futuristic. Everybody is always thinking about “what could be done”, without limiting themselves to “what can I do?”. I remember when I started this idea, I knew that I could distinguish the piglets’ squeals, but I didn’t know anything about technology. However, I knew that some of the stuff we’re doing with technology today is just insane and that there’s no way that this can’t be done. So from there, we went to put together the team. We knew it could be done, we just didn’t know how to do it. I think everybody… no entrepreneur knows exactly how to do it in their first venture, they just know that it can be done, so they go out and pursue it. Entrepreneurs are just very determined and futuristic. They just need somebody to help them step back and go “should this be created?” or “is there a good reason for it to be created? Can you make money or does your target customer want this? Can it truly, actually help people?”