We’re checking in with past VenturePrize winners to see how their companies have changed since winning the grand prize in the Student, Fast Growth, Health and TELUS ICT streams. This week, we spoke to Vaughan Payne, President & Partner​ of Dakota Supplies, winner of the 2016 Fast Growth stream.

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The Dakota Supplies team didn’t necessarily expect to take home the top prize in the VenturePrize Fast Growth category – as a late entrant, they managed to turn their proposal around on a short timeline. Despite this, the judges saw something special in Dakota Supplies, and the company advanced to the top three, and finally to the top spot as the grand prize winner.

Dakota Supplies provides the commercial transportation industry with disposable, sanitizing cleaning solutions with its patented product, an all-in-one cleaning unit specifically designed to meet the cleaning challenges of commercial transportation, including airlines and buses.

Since Dakota Supplies is based in Calgary, the team participated in the VenturePrize pitch training provided by sponsor Innovate Calgary. “It was good,” says Vaughan. “Every bit of training, feedback and encouragement helps. You always pick something up from it.”

For Vaughan, one of the most memorable parts of the process was the very first presentation he and the team gave to the selection committee: “the credentials and various backgrounds of the people in that room were very intimidating,” he remembers. “But they were fantastic people.”

Making it to the final three Fast Growth companies was also a highlight. Although Vaughan and Deborah Humphries (Managing Director and Partner) were familiar with the process from their business backgrounds, they found that presenting a product you’ve built yourself is different: “It’s something that you’ve created, and that’s the scary part,” says Vaughan. “But it’s exciting when the audience knows you’ve got something.”

After the final round of presentations, it was announced that Dakota Supplies would be the 2016 Fast Growth Grand Prize winner: “We all sat there in a bit of shock,” Vaughan remembers. “We were thrilled. It was a vote of confidence that we had something”

All the hard work that went into putting their presentations together was truly a team effort: “We have excellent people in our advisory group,” Vaughan explained. “Lorena Forster (VenturePrize mentor) and Deb did most of the job working through the presentation and details.”

So how has Dakota Supplies changed since taking home the Fast Growth award over seven months ago? “Since April, we have completed field trials with a major Canadian airline through the summer,” says Vaughan. “and we received really important feedback, did a design change, and are currently conducting a second set of field trials with the same airline.”

Dakota Supplies is also performing field trials with another major Canadian airline, and Vaughan says the feedback so far has been extremely positive. As of this week, the company has received a letter of intent to purchase from one major Canadian airline, as well as a purchase order from a global distributor that maintains relationships with 50 per cent of airlines globally.

In addition, the company is securing a contract with a local manufacturing plant in Edmonton to produce Dakota Supplies’ patented cartridge and dispenser product.

With such an eventful year under its belt, it would be easy to think Dakota Supplies shot to success in a short amount of time – but it’s taken three years to get to this point from the company’s beginnings, and “a lot of grey hair,” says Vaughan.

To this year’s VenturePrize entrants, Vaughan has two key pieces of advice: one to attend as many workshops as you can. “Every entrepreneur makes mistakes through this period, and anything that you can learn from people who are qualified to give you advice, you better take it,” he explains. The second is to give back when you’ve achieved success: “We have taken our success and have tried to help and mentor other people,” Vaughan says. “That has been quite rewarding in that regard.”