The Dragons Miss Out on the Best Yet

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The Dragons' eyes' failed to spot the excellent investment opportunity in Applied Language Solutions, the most successful company to have appeared on the show so far. Applied Language has received many awards for performance over the last year including the 2007 National Business Awards "Small to Medium Sized Business of the Year", the "HSBC Start-up Star" in 2006 and were finalists in the "Best Multinational Company in Europe" category at the 2007 International Business Awards.

Applied Language CEO Gavin Wheeldon

I'm not a man afraid to take risks, but facing the Dragons was at times intimidating, especially when they started to contest the financial evaluation of the company, and particularly as I was only offering a 4% share in the company.

In November 2006, Gavin Wheeldon, a Yorkshire Entrepreneur climbed the steep steps for his opportunity to prise an investment from the Dragon's claws. To the Dragon's misfortune, they failed to invest in the translation company, Applied Language Solutions. Instead, the Dragons' chose to give Gavin a grilling over his £6 million company valuation and bold pitch for £250,000 to invest in global expansion, in return for just 4% in the business.

Gavin was told by Richard Farleigh he was running a "Copycat business in a super competitive Industry" and, in their eyes, he had greatly overvalued his company." But the events that followed have proved that sometimes even the most successful entrepreneurs can fail to recognize a good idea when it is right in front of them. They've admitted as much, and have described Applied Language as "The one that got away" in the first Dragons Den book, 'Success from pitch to profit'.

Despite not securing investment, Applied Language's annual turnover increased massively from the estimated turnover of £3.2 million Gavin proposed to the Dragons to a whopping £3.7 million, thus proving that his estimated valuation is definitely achievable.

Almost a year on from filming, Gavin's business has enjoyed phenomenal success having won major contracts for Yahoo, Dell, Google, Nike, United Nations and 60 NHS Bodies. Expansion has been seen in all areas of the business with the addition of over 30 staff and the introduction of professional face-to-face and instant telephone interpreting to their services portfolio.

Unlike many entrepreneurs that appeared before him, Gavin has stayed true to the pitch he delivered to the Dragons, the company has now opened two new offices in Asia situated in India and China; the Indian office already having moved to a larger office due to the rapid growth. They are also preparing for the launch of yet another US office in Chicago later this month and are planning to open an additional Asian office in Singapore.

Many of the candidates who were successful in securing investment in the Den have not been as fortunate in business and have not seen such significant growth and several of the companies are still at the pre-launch stage or have simply not expanded at all. Furthermore many deals made such as, Eggxactly and Umbrolly collapsed shortly after the program. Just how good are the five elite business entrepreneurs at spotting the 'next big thing'?

The Dragons did not deny they were impressed with Gavin's entrepreneurial skills. He was described by Theo Paphitis as an "intelligent and very capable" man, but they identified an apparent flaw in his pitch. Gavin estimated the company's future value at £6 million, not realizing his fatal mistake in arriving at such a figure based on previous financial earnings before tax.

Gavin said, "I admit I did make a mistake of estimating figures before tax to the Dragons but I managed to negotiate my way through the tough questions by trying to justify my valuation through focusing on the massive and organic growth Applied Language has enjoyed since 2003."

"This year we are working towards a 300 percent growth on our current turnover, and since filming in the den we have been approached by a number of venture capitalists, who have in actual fact valued our company at £10 million at least, never mind the £6 million I valued it at on the program."

Whilst Richard Farleigh was distinctively shocked at such a bold offer of just a 4% share in the business, the lowest ever known on Dragon's Den, Duncan Bannatyne saw a very risky but money-making investment opportunity. Impressed with Gavin's business acumen and cheeky sales attitude, Duncan made him an offer on the proviso Richard Farleigh would match it. Unfortunately in the end, Richard decided it wasn't for him. Following this Duncan admitted, "Gavin, I think you'll probably prove all the Dragons wrong - even me. And I think you'll do tremendously well."

Duncan Bannatyne was right. Gavin has shown that you can get where you want through sheer hard work and determination. Despite not being able to speak any foreign tongues, Gavin runs a highly successful translation and interpretation company that provides professional translation and interpretation in over 150 languages, has 9 offices worldwide and a 90-strong team.

Gavin said about his experience of the Dragons' wrath: "I'm not a man afraid to take risks, but facing the Dragons was at times intimidating, especially when they started to contest the financial evaluation of the company, and particularly as I was only offering a 4% share in the company."

"The recent success we have achieved is testament to our hard work as a company. I have strong aspirations for Applied Language and everything I said we would achieve in my pitch, we have and in a shorter timescale. The Dragon's obviously missed out on a fantastic investment opportunity."

Applied Language Solutions translate all kinds of documents from simple letters to large technical documents, including whole websites and printed catalogs, for specialist Medical, Legal, Financial and Marketing organizations. The company is committed to using only professional in-country translators and interpreters, of whom they have over 14,000 on their books. These translators work in over 150 languages including all the major European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern and American languages.

Applied Language have received many awards for their performance over the last year including the 2007 National Business Awards "Small to Medium Sized Business of the Year", the "HSBC Start-up Star" in 2006 and were finalists in the "Best Multinational Company in Europe" category at the 2007 International Business Awards.

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Richard Michie
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