Comment: Socially minded companies often miss out on headlines

Smarter Senses is launching a social skills app to help adolescents with autism, writes Leanna Byrne

7th October, 2016

Is it me, or are more start-ups setting up just to do good?

Of course, the premise of starting a business is to solve a problem. Whether it a problem with technology or a missing service, you start a business to fill a gap in the market. But lately I’m seeing more start-ups created to tackle social problems.

Moving away from the charity model, founders are establishing social enterprises or other non-profit business models to make a social impact.

This might not be apparent from media coverage. If you read any business section or website you’ll see a predilection for covering the start-ups that are focused on scaling to turnover big profits or securing big pots of funding.

Figures make big headlines, so sometimes socially minded companies miss out.

So today I’m going to talk about one such socially minded company I met on my trip down to Cork last week.

I met Denis Collins, chairman of Smarter Senses, over a cup of peppermint tea in the Clarion Hotel in Cork City.

Founded in 2010, Smarter Senses is a project developing technology for the Shine Centre, a Cork-based charity for children with autism.

In collaboration with the Bon Secours Hospital and graphic design and web studio Doodle Creative, it developed a social skills app in 2015 which now has over 35,000 users.

While the app took €42,000 to develop, it is free to download through the iTunes and the Google Play Store. The majority of its funding came from Bon Secours, with additional support from the Lottery Fund and Shine.

This month, it is launching a second social skills app that will help adolescents with autism deal with friendship and internet safety.

“A lack of social skills can lead to social isolation and increased social anxiety,” said Collins.

This app, also free to download, was developed for a €100,000 sum.

So far, Smarter Senses has won the IBM Global Centennial Award, Chambers Ireland CSR Excellence Award, and Shine Ireland Outstanding Achievement Award.

It has also been nominated for Digital Excellence Award.

Rather than focusing on profits, the ultimate vision for Smarter Senses is to develop an online resource or portal where resources, information and strategies from multiple sources are available to people with autism, parents, educators and autism professionals.

Call me soft, but even if Smarter Senses isn’t aiming to reach €100 million in turnover or €1 billion valuation, I think that vision is worth a headline.

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