BIG Gets Bigger, Acquires US Healthcare Specialist ISI

Big Language Solutions acquires ISI Language Solutions - Jeff Brink

Big Language Solutions (BIG) has acquired healthcare and insurance specialist ISI Language Solutions. The transaction closed in early September 2020, Jeff Brink, CEO at BIG, told Slator.

According to Brink, “It was a bit tricky closing a deal in the Covid environment, but everyone was committed to making it work. We conducted most of our due diligence via video conferencing and daily calls. However, our executive team did manage to travel for in-person meetings in LA back in early June.”

ISI is based in Glendale, California, while BIG operates out of Atlanta, Georgia. Some 70 ISI staff will join the BIG and Protranslating organizations, bringing the total headcount of the Group to 300 FTEs. As previously reported, Brink in tandem with PE firm MSouth set up BIG to “assemble a portfolio of high-performing and complementary language service providers,” of which Protranslating (USD 25m in annual revenues) was the first.

“We plan to invest heavily in technology and growth, and envision cross-sell opportunities with other BIG companies,” Brink said.

While Brink declined to discuss purchase price, earnings multiple paid, or ISI’s revenues (estimated to be USD 15m per year), he said the language service provider (LSP) has “established a powerful brand” in the healthcare and insurance industries, and has gained “many delighted long-term clients.” Brink said, “Our independent research on ISI yielded a net promoter score of 90%, which is extremely high.”

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Brink heard about ISI via boutique advisory firm JSquare Conseil (which also advised on Acolad’s Telelingua and HL Trad deals); while ISI was advised by Nimdzi. Brink said the acquisition “fits nicely with our regulated-industry growth strategy.” In his June 2019 interview with Slator, Brink discussed their plan to focus on regulated sectors and other high-value content areas because “as we look long-term, the impact of NMT there will be less pervasive.”

Small to BIG

George Rimalower founded ISI in 1982. According to Brink, Rimalower “saw firsthand how bridging a language gap could turn a situation from unnecessarily confusing and scary to familiar and reassuring. The son of Holocaust survivors who fled Nazi Germany, George spent his first dozen years amidst the political and economic chaos of Argentina in the 1950s and ’60s.”

Current ISI owners Emilie Villeneuve and Michael Bearden were long-term employees of the LSP before purchasing it from Rimalower in 2012. Villeneuve, who began as an assistant, stepped into the role of CEO, while Bearden, who started as a project manager, became President. “They bet on themselves, bought the business seven years ago from the founder, and achieved 300% growth,” Brink said.

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He added that ISI uses a mix of linguists — subject-matter experts, FTEs, freelancers, seasonal staff — languages technologies, and tools, adjusting to the nature and size of the account or quickly building bandwidth as needed by its clients.

ISI’s being “extremely specialized” in HITRUST and ISO-certified language solutions, as Brink put it, and ability to comply with the regulatory requirements of highly regulated sectors for three decades will undoubtedly bolster BIG’s Life Sciences vertical.

Asked if there was any significant client overlap between ISI (which counts a number of large US healthcare providers among its clients) and the rest of the Group, Brink replied that there was “not much overlap,” and “ISI’s offering is very complementary to BIG and Protranslating.”

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He said ISI’s business comprises 85% document translation and 15% interpreting. “Although face-to-face interpreting is down, ISI’s overall business has actually grown during Covid-19. This was very appealing to us,” Brink added.

On their plans to expedite integration into the Group by, for one thing, streamlining TMSs and translation productivity tools, Brink said, “ISI currently uses Plunet, Memsource and Trados. We will bring ISI onto BIG’s proprietary technology stack in 2021.”

Buyer’s Market

As the language industry continued to be attractive for investors through Covid — gauging by the more than two dozen M&A and Funding stories Slator covered over the past three months — we asked Brink if the coronavirus had any impact at all in terms of pricing expectations or even reduced dealmaking. He replied, “We decided not to ease off the accelerator from an investment and M&A perspective. It helps to be backed by such a great sponsor with deep pockets, like MSouth.”

Networking at SlatorCon San Francisco 2019
Charles Stubbs (MSouth Equity Partners) and Andrew Smart (Slator)

Brink added, “I believe the uncertain times have driven more LSP owners to contemplate a potential exit. Our seller-friendly model has attracted a lot of attention. We allow owners to take some risk or money off the table while continuing to run their business, and provide access to growth capital and BIG resources.”

Brink feels the marketplace has shifted from a seller’s to a buyer’s market, in the wake of Covid-19 and he now sees “great deal flow and reduced competition in this environment.”

So do BIG and MSouth still expect to close more transactions for the remainder of 2020? Brink replied, “Yes, we expect another announcement in late September and have the potential to close another deal yet this year.”

Image: Jeff Brink, CEO, BIG Language Solutions