Young Alum of the Month – June 2023

On a hot, humid day in the middle of an Iowa summer, ensuring conditions are nice and cool inside a hog barn is essential to keeping those pigs happy and healthy. But how can the barn’s conditions be monitored if you’re not in or near it? That’s where BJ Brugman’s business comes in.

Brugman (’12 agricultural business) is the co-founder and CEO of Distynct, a smart alarm monitoring system that allows farmers and producers to keep tabs on barn conditions remotely via smartphones. The idea for the business stemmed from interactions Brugman had with farmers during a previous job.

“Every customer we talked to wanted to know how they can get real-time data from their farm,” Brugman said.

As a result of these conversations, he started Distynct in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic and while living in France, where his wife was based for her job. His goal in starting the Ames, Iowa-based business was to get farmers access to real-time data from the farm and be able to proactively respond to unfavorable barn conditions such as power loss, water pressure failure and dramatic temperature fluctuations.

A key feature of the Distynct technology is that users can gain complete remote visibility of their farm using the existing infrastructure. That means no new wires to run and no new probes. All that is needed is a Connectivity Engine from Distynct, and farmers can see the conditions of their farms from anywhere in the world.

What distinguishes Distynct from similar businesses is that it enables stand-alone internet connection, taking the burden of getting internet to the barn off the producer and ultimately allowing customers to monitor and view barn conditions remotely via their smartphones.

“If precision agriculture is in the future, we need to bring internet to the barns,” Brugman said.

Given the value of the structure and of the pigs inside the facility, Brugman said it makes sense for farmers and producers to install this system.

“If a pig barn were a lake house, we’d monitor it remotely,” Brugman said.

In setting up the business, Brugman used the training he received through his classes as an Iowa State student – everything from thinking through his business plan to raising funds to get his business up and running. He has also used the network of Iowa State and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduates and professors to help grow and improve his business.

“That has been extremely valuable in terms of identifying customers,” Brugman said.

Kevin Kimle, director of Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Rastetter Chair of Agricultural Entrepreneurship, is one of the faculty who has guided Brugman along his startup business journey.

“We are so pleased that BJ decided to return to Iowa and build his business in Ames. He has been engaged from the beginning in the ecosystem, contributing shared experiences in the hard work of building a business,” Kimle said. “BJ and his team have very effectively adjusted product strategy to solve problems first. His extensive experience in the animal health industry and network of relationships with industry leaders have been very valuable.”

Brugman advises aspiring business owners to make sure they have all their ducks – or pigs, in this case – in a row before launching their business.

“It’s easy to get really excited about projects like this, but you need to stop and think strategically about the steps you need to take to get from here to there for your idea or business to become successful,” Brugman said.