Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa program gives boost to rural entrepreneurs

For the fourth consecutive year, Iowa entrepreneurs were finalists in the national American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, with SwineTech, Inc., an Oskaloosa-based ag technology startup, advancing to the Final Four of this year’s competition.        

Founders Matthew Rooda and Abraham Espinoza of SwineTech, Inc. were selected out of 471 applicants and were awarded $15,000. They will compete against three other finalists for the coveted AFBF Entrepreneur of the Year Award and People’s Choice Award during a live competition at AFBF’s 99th Annual Convention in Nashville on January 7.  The entrepreneurs will share their business vision with the judges as they vie for the Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year Award and an additional $15,000, for a total of $30,000 in business startup funds.  There is also a People’s Choice Award, chosen by public vote, that will award one of the entrepreneurs an additional $10,000, for a total of $25,000 in prize money. 

“Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa program has been instrumental to our success,” said SwineTech CEO Matthew Rooda. “They’ve worked with us since we took part in the Iowa Startup Accelerator at the very beginnings of SwineTech, providing critical feedback of our business model in the early days as well as continued support for our ideas over the years, helping us transition an idea from the white board to the boardroom. As we move towards commercial launch and beyond, we remain thankful for all the help Renew Rural Iowa has provided along the way.”

Since its launch in 2006, the IFBF Renew Rural Iowa program has reinvested more than $125 million in rural Iowa and helped more than 2,500 entrepreneurs start or grow their business.

“With numerous Iowa farmers also working off the farm for supplemental income, Iowa Farm Bureau recognized the need to help rural businesses grow and thrive which in turn, helps ensure strong, vibrant rural communities,” said Adam Koppes, Investment manager for IFBF and Rural Vitality Funds.  “Our program connects entrepreneurs with business mentors and financial resources.”

SwineTech, Inc. has been called the “Fitbit for Pigs,” and creates technologies to reduce piglet mortalities on farrowing facilities around the world.  They use proper caregiving techniques, audio frequency monitoring technologies, and Pavlovian-conditioning to train sows not to crush their piglets, and provide biometric tracking to aid farmers in providing the best animal care possible. 

Kevin and Lilia Roepke, the entrepreneurs behind Sale Ring, an ag technology startup based in Ames, were also recognized as best-in-show with a Top-10 finish in the AFBF Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge and were awarded $10,000 in startup funds.                 

The Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, now in its fourth year, provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural regions of the U.S.  It is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs working in a food and agriculture business. 

Iowa Farm Bureau-mentored entrepreneurs have enjoyed great success pitching their ideas on a national stage during the AFBF competition. In total, seven Iowa-based startups have made the Top 10 and received financial prizes as contest finalists.

“Every day, farmer innovators are working on ways to improve the efficiency and productivity of agriculture so we can produce more using fewer resources and make our rural communities strong,” said IFBF President Craig Hill.  “Renew Rural Iowa has been a great tool for these entrepreneurs, helping businesses like SwineTech succeed and grow in rural Iowa, and we congratulate SwineTech on their success in the competition and wish them well as they represent Iowa on the national stage.”            

Renew Rural Iowa (RRIA) is an IFBF initiative supporting new and existing businesses through education, mentoring, and financial resources.  The next Renew Rural Iowa Business Success Seminar, “The Journey to Your Vision,” takes place November 14 at Guthrie County Farm Bureau Hall in Guthrie Center.  For more information, go to