Given that certain denizens of the business world can sometimes seem to be speaking in tongues, it’s refreshing to encounter a new company with an infectious enthusiasm for language and clarity. Despite only forming in 2009, Veritas Language Group - a translation, interpreting, and language services provider - has already developed in unimaginable ways since the days when Sharon Stephens, and her joint-CEO Rachel Bryan, ran the company from a dining-room table. They founded the business just one day after their final honours degree exam (the pair studied Translation at Swansea University) and Veritas has achieved a meteoric rise to prominence since then.
“We’re experienced translators running a translation agency, and that’s a big USP (unique selling proposition),” states Sharon. “Being able to understand languages properly is hugely important, as is having a cultural appreciation of them. Languages change, so we approach things methodically and do them rather differently,” she continues. “We also go into schools to promote languages, because they’re declining in this country which is crazy in an increasingly globalised world, so we’re really passionate about the use of other languages for life and work. Business needs to evolve, like the world around us, and work with the community – language can be a powerful force for that.”
Sharon had already earmarked entrepreneurship as a good career path after university, to give her flexibility as she raised a young family, and Rachel, having just had her first child, felt the same way. “I met Rachel while studying, and we complement each other very well. We’d discussed certain ideas and had something of a vision, because we knew what we wanted to do,” Sharon explains. Crucially, the pair had already identified a gap in the market for an ethically-led language services company and, thanks to their alma mater, they soon had some office space to start progressing the formative business further.
They had their first order within a week of starting up, thanks to several phone calls to contacts they’d established through the university. From there, things grew ever more rapidly. However, the funding that the duo needed to upscale the business wasn’t a cinch by any means. Their first foray into the area yielded an offer of just £200 from a local private business agency, plus a course that Sharon remembers for all the wrong reasons: “It was uninspiring and boring, so much so that we avoided going on the second one that followed.”
Soon afterwards, however, they struck gold with Venture Wales - linked to the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) - who guided the pair through a business planning process and financial forecasting to become the first company to receive the WAG’s Graduate Bursary new business grant. This gave Veritas small-business financial assistance in the form of £12,000 each for Sharon and Rachel.
“It was incredible,” recalls Sharon, who waxes lyrical about the help afforded by Venture Wales and their business advisor. “It allowed us to put everything earned by the company back into the company, and it covered one or two issues, such as a bad experience we had with the first web company we employed.”
To secure the grants and funding, the partners obviously had to be graduates, but they were also required to submit a wealth of paperwork, including a financial plan that projected £80,000 of business in the first year (which they “smashed”). It was a fairly lengthy process, but Sharon is unambiguous about whether it was worth the effort: “It’s so worth the hassle. It allowed us to keep up with our mortgages and continue to pay our child care. It might take a day to fill in the paperwork and a week or more for a proper business plan, but if you can’t fill out some paperwork, you won’t run a good business.”
On top of the bursary award, Veritas soon benefited from another European Union funding strand. It too was identified by their business advisor and provided courtesy of the WAG, but this time they tapped the Single Investment Fund (SIF), which provides finance for businessto grow and undertake high quality new projects in Wales. Once again the company met the requisite criteria, including a wish-list of what they needed the money for (notably, a specialised telephony system and new computers) and a thorough check on their accounts. The result was match business and finance funding of £10,000 and another huge boost to the business, which moved into its dedicated ‘Veritas House’ premises in 2010.
The company now works 24/7, 365 days a year, with 5,500 freelance, dedicated linguists worldwide, and expects to expand its core office staff (currently sitting around 10) significantly in the near future. There’s excited talk about groundbreaking new products such as ‘Translate M8,’ as well as the academic side of the operation (the development of a dedicated language-access dictionary) and the potential need to move office again, as business booms. It’s little wonder then, that Lord Digby Jones called Sharon, Rachel and Veritas “inspirational” when recently handing over the HSBC Start-Up Stars International Award to the pair – quite an achievement for a company less than two years old.
“A good business advisor is worth their weight in gold, because trying to know everything is impossible, so don’t wear too many hats – get the experts in for the areas you’re not sure about,” advises Sharon, when asked for some insights into their success. “Talk to your customers too, they need to understand your services in order to want them.” If the dizzying developments at Veritas are anything to go by, it’s guidance that any entrepreneur should heed, in order to translate their first ideas into fruition.
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