Case Study

Sensational Kids

Brendan Joy |
Sensational Kids
© Sensational Kids


Rethink Ireland supports the most innovative non-profit organisations working in communities across Ireland. Joining forces with the Government, companies, families, individuals and foundations is how we do business. Together we create Funds as a way to help innovations rise to the challenges of our most pressing social and environmental issues.

Our case study is on Sensational Kids, an award-winning social enterprise, who provide vital front-line therapeutic supports for children with additional needs, ensuring that these children in need have access to vital supports when and where they need them. 

Why was this investment catalytic?

Starting in 2018, Sensational Kids and Rethink Ireland started our journey of support and collaboration. Sensational Kids, led by their CEO and founder Karen Leigh, scaled from Co. Kildare and are now on track to deliver a €10.6 million National Child Development Centre that will see 30,000 thrive over the next ten years. 

Organisation type: Impact Fund

Financial instruments used:

  • Social Enterprise Development Fund 2018: Cash Grant of €50,000 with a non-financial supports package worth €10,000 over 1 year.                     
  • Rethink Ireland Growth Fund: Cash grants of €275,000 in 3 instalments over 2020, 2021 & 2022/2023. Non-financial supports of €15,000 per year over 2020, 2021, 2022/2023. Sensational Kids were supported across the areas of Organisational Development, Social Impact and Financial Sustainability.     

Final beneficiaries targeted: Children and youth, People with disabilities 

Sector targeted: Health

SDG targeted: Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being

Challenge and solution

Today, 1 in 4 children in Ireland has a special educational need. This means that there are 420,000 children in Ireland who have additional needs such as those with autism, down syndrome, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and many other developmental delays. Identifying and treating these difficulties at a young age will allow a child to truly realise their potential. Fundraising and earned income from Sensational Kids’ Child Development & Learning Store and training workshops help to subsidise therapy services, so that they can bridge the gap between public and private therapy services, providing a practical, accessible, and affordable service for those in need.

Sensational Kids were based out of one child development centre with limited capacity in Co. Kildare before being awarded by Rethink Ireland in 2018 (entering the Social Enterprise Development Fund in 2018).

Sensational Kids were an Awardee on Rethink Ireland’s Social Enterprise Development (SED) Fund 2018. The SED Fund supports Ireland’s most impactful and innovative Social Enterprises to develop, scale and deepen their impact. Sensational Kids were then identified as a high-potential Social Enterprise and were awarded a place on Rethink Ireland’s Growth Fund. Through the Growth Fund, Rethink Ireland provides bespoke support to social innovations that are ready to secure significant growth capital to grow and deepen their impact over several years. Applications to the Growth Fund are open to existing Rethink Ireland Awardees who meet the criteria. Successful applicants partner with Rethink Ireland’s Business Development Team to secure private funds for an agreed growth capital fundraising target. If this is achieved, Rethink Ireland then provides an uplift on the capital secured and assigns a dedicated team to support the organisation to achieve targets for scale and impact.

Rethink Ireland’s catalytic role 

Growth Fund: A key goal in the first year of the investment was to build a Senior Management Team to support Karen Leigh as CEO. Karen received support from a strategic consultant to design an organisational structure, with key business unit leads, that would support the team for the next stage of growth. In a highly competitive market, they achieved their goal and secured a number of key hires to form their Senior Management Team.                         

Another key focus in year 1 was to prepare a new marketing and retail strategy which was developed with the pro-bono support of State Street. The new strategy was developed and approved in early 2021 and provides a roadmap to increase brand awareness and online sales while identifying key brand assets and strategic alliances. It also entails a particular focus on increasing online sales to drive profitability and thus increase capacity to deliver therapy services.                     

As part of the business supports budget, a deep dive into the impact their services deliver was undertaken with the support of a specialist impact consultant in early 2021. Following this work a theory of change and impact measurement plan was completed. From this, recommendations to better measure social impact for both the children supported and their families were made. As a result of this plan, a specialist US consultant was engaged to develop a clinical measurement tool that will measure clinical outcomes that can then be used to demonstrate the model to potential service providers including the Health Service Executive (The Irish Health Sector’s governing body).

Finally, our contribution to Sensational Kids has enabled access to finance which led them to raise €9.6 million of a total of €10.6 million to develop their National Child Development Centra, which will see 30,000 children thrive over the next ten years. 

Rethink Ireland’s impact 

Sensational Kids has two main traded income streams: therapy fees and their online retail shop. Since 2018, both income streams, outlined in the graphics below, have started to increase more rapidly in conjunction with the scaling up of their services to each province and increased recognition as a brand.

therapy income graph
income graph

Up to 2019, therapy and retail income streams accounted for up 90% of total income. The Growth Fund investment is focused on supporting Sensational Kids’ continued growth to achieve financial sustainability by the end of the investment period. It is hoped that 2022 will bring some stability to therapy services and utilising spare capacity in the Mayo and Cork centres, along with a fully functioning senior management team, will drive further efficiencies and economies of scale for the business. 

Rethink Ireland’s Growth fund supports Ireland’s most promising changemakers to achieve widespread and transformative impact. Sensational Kids are a perfect fit for the fund and have been excelling since coming on board in 2020. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, they managed to help over 1,500 children, scale their services and products nationally, and recruit a team to lead the organisation into the future. Rethink Ireland are proud to have partnered with our donors to support Karen Leigh and Sensational Kids through the Growth Fund. 

Insights and learnings

Rethink Ireland and Sensational Kids built a strong, trusting relationship from the beginning of the investment period that clearly defined the role of investor and investee and purpose of the Growth Fund investment. This empowered Sensational Kids to communicate opportunities and progress periodically, ensure they engaged the correct non-financial supports, but also call out for support when needed, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that saw enforced closures of their child development centres in addition to reduced therapy hours. On two particular occasions, clear communication of challenges encountered by the investee relating to the achievement of impact and income investment goals, allowed Rethink Ireland to revise these goals and associated payment milestones to meet the needs of the investee. 

Without the catalytic investment, Sensational Kids would have struggled to scale up to four centres across Ireland so quickly, but more importantly, build a leadership team for the next stage of growth that could plan and execute an implementation plan for scale.

Sensational Kids are well positioned to support the national health service in Ireland to tackle the growing waiting lists for needs assessments and therapeutic interventions. Recent impact measurement studies have proven a higher-than-average intervention score as a result of Sensational Kids’ multiple therapies approach which leaves them well positioned to have a sustained impact across Ireland. Their planned new national child development centre in Kildare, scheduled to open in 2024, will increase their capacity to deliver services and act as a national solution for supporting children with additional needs in Ireland. 

The role of the investor at the beginning of the investment:

  • Set investment goals and objectives that align with existing investee strategic plans
  • Identify key risks and opportunities associated with the investee growth plan and check in against these on a periodic basis. 

Further resource

Sensational Kids Annual Report 2021                        

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