Growing up on a farm, Matthew Rooda’s least favorite chore was carrying the bucket of dead piglets away from their mother.
The large sows raised on his family farm often crushed their young while nursing and resting in their pens. Rooda’s frustration with the economic implications on the farm due to the loss of piglet life propelled him to found Swinetech. His new company produces monitors to alert pigs of their piglets’ distress to preserve piglets' lives and increase profits.
On Thursday, Swinetech earned a big boost when Rooda delivered the winning pitch in the final round of the 12th annual Cupid’s Cup in Pick-Staiger auditorium.
“This is a big deal, and a year and a half ago I was just a little farming kid,” said Rooda, a student at the University of Iowa. “This is not something I ever expected.”
The Cupid’s Cup allows top student entrepreneurs to compete for $100,000 in cash prizes to expand their company. The competition is the brainchild of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, whose first entrepreneurial venture, Cupid’s Valentine Rose Delivery, inspired the name.
In the first of the competitions to be hosted outside of the University of Maryland, Plank promoted Under Armour and spoke to the audience about the importance of believing in humble roots to create great companies.
“The best advice I can give to any entrepreneur is to just put your product on the market and see if it can sell,” Plank said. “If you’re tough – if you believe in yourself – it could be the best thing you ever do.”
The five finalists each had five minutes to present their pitch, followed by questioning from a panel of judges. Products included a natural charcoal-based deodorant, fruit-based hair products and a learning system to improve financial literacy for millennials.
In a style that emulates ABC’s popular entrepreneurial show “Shark Tank,” judges drilled contestants on their marketing strategies, product costs, plans for expansion and more.
“For every one thing you get, there are ten things you don’t,” said Rebecca Liebman, CEO of LearnLux. Her company competed for a second time after being knocked out in a previous Cupid’s Cup competition. “Why are you gonna stop when you get told ‘No’ once?”
Head football coach Pat Fitzgerald made an appearance to introduce Northwestern alumnus Donovan Morrison (McCormick ‘14) and Willie the Wildcat helped MC Christian Crosby invigorate the crowd.
Morrison rode a wave of Northwestern support to clench the $5,000 audience choice award. His company, Luna Lights, uses motion sensors and cloud-driven data analytics to predict and prevent older adults from falling by detecting their mobility.
“To be able to come back to a venue like this and to this sort of competition is really a dream come true,” Morrison said.
Muhga Eltigani’s pitch for Natur-All won second place with a prize of $20,000. All three winners expressed plans to use the money to expand and better their products.
“If you’re a student entrepreneur, the number one thing you need to be is open-minded; a closed-minded individual is the most likely individual to fail,” Rooda said. “Look for something that’s holding you back. What’s holding you back and how can you turn that into a business?”