SD Refining Co.

Crude oil and coffee, black.

In March, notice arrived that Zack and I made it to the Governor’s Giant Vision Contest to test the mettle of SD Refining Co. against the wit and acumen of eight other student companies from universities across the state.

Fewer student competitors entered this year, thus fewer business plans were accepted. SDRC competed in the SD Mines Shark Tank last December so much of the work was already completed. The benefit of competing with the same plan meant that we could focus on missed or previously unknown details:

  • Environmental permitting – our mentor scheduled a meeting with a permitting specialist at Black Hills Corp.,
  • Access to better numbers – both for processed crude oil and potential sales, and
  • Packaging the project for two levels of profitability – Phase 1 and Phase 2.

Having the best business plan does not guarantee success. After all, what is the best business? The most profitable? The most likely to succeed? The largest potential employer? How do we convince the judges that we are the best business when, in fact, SDRC had the largest ask along with a very long timeline for profitability?

And then there was the tradeshow floor. People are tactile: we love to pick things up, touch them, turn them around, and take them apart (that last one might only pertain to engineers). Our primary challenge was that we had nothing to show and were asking for millions of dollars. We had no prototype, no working model, no diagram. Our competitors would have all these things and one even boasted a pending patent.

SDRC needed to get noticed: we needed something for judges and visitors to hold, and we needed a concise diagram of what we planned to do.

After deciding on a logo, Zack commissioned the banner and I tracked down a company to create and ship mugs on a tight timeframe. As for product, a friend of mine from the oil patch brought me a bottle of that beautiful Bakken Crude. Zack procured two mason jars full of diesel, one dyed off-road red and one regular.

Bakken Crude, Diesel, and Dyed Diesel – Dyed diesel fuel is non-taxed regular diesel fuel that has red dye added to it to help enforcement officials easily identify it and is for off-road use only (farm equipment and home heating).

The night before the contest, I had to find our mugs. A company out of Pennsylvania guaranteed shipment, so our mugs shipped straight to the conference, but where? I set up the SDRC table for display while Zack ran to Kinko’s to retrieve the diagrams and handouts.

For the refining process, I used a generic diagram to demonstrate which crude products SDRC would refine. En route to Sioux Falls, I typed up a two paged color business brief. Finally, I included a framed antique 1923 stock certificate of the South Dakota Development & Refining Company.


Limited Edition Coffee Mugs, SD Refining Co.


You read about BNGSS last year so I will not recount the competition agenda. This year judges told us how the competition would be scored: the judges would guestimate a probability of success and multiply by the SD’s GDP (and a couple of other unknown variables to keep it interesting). The higher the number, the higher the ranking.

That morning I gave the elevator pitch and then Zack and I made our formal presentation. Throughout the day we visited with investors and economic development directors from around the state. Zack sold our refinery idea like his life depended on it. Student competitors surreptitiously checked each other out and feigned nonchalance. In short, we had a blast.

Awards Ceremony: Scyller J. Borglum, Governor Daugaard, and J. Zack Malone

Finally, the awards ceremony: competitions like this are notoriously unpredictable. A group that placed very high last December did not place at all in this competition. Two ag-based companies tied for first place. SDRC took 3rd.

When it came time for our award photograph, you bet this former pharmaceutical rep pulled out her branded material and set it squarely in the Governor’s hands.

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