Charting a New Course: Jerry the Bear

  • Charting a New Course: Jerry the Bear
  • Aaron Horowitz knew all too well what it was like to have a childhood disease. As a student at Northwestern, he was introduced to a DFA project which focused on children with Type 1 Diabetes. This led him down a path that connected his own childhood experiences with his natural inclination as a tinkerer.

    Aaron sensed children with diabetes can often feel lonely and overwhelmed. They might not know anyone else with the disease who can understand the ups and downs, the painful needle pricks, and the worry of the unknown.

    Meet Jerry the Bear.

    Jerry is more than just a cute and cuddly stuffed animal. For a child with diabetes and her family, Jerry is a teacher and a friend: an interactive companion who knows what it is like to wear an insulin pump, deal with frequent injections, and stay on top of counting their carbohydrates. Jerry comes with eight injection sites, a sticker to attach a virtual insulin pump, and augmented reality games to play on a free mobile application. By learning through play, children with diabetes begin to understand how to take ownership of a complex disease.

    Aaron and his classmate, Hannah Chung, entered Jerry in an international competition hosted by Healthline Media, Inc., a leading consumer health advocacy group, and won the “Most Creative Category.” As of 2014, Jerry can be found in more than a quarter of all pediatric endocrinology offices in the United States, and through partnerships with philanthropies like Beyond Type 1, Jerry is available around the world and continues making a difference in the lives of thousands.

    The process of Jerry’s creation also changed the lives of the students who created Jerry. Aaron and Hannah began by dissecting existing concepts — from Furbies to Arduinos — which led to the design of not only Jerry, but Aaron’s own major, Mechatronics and User Interaction Design. Upon graduation, Aaron and Hannah started Sproutel Inc., a new company to bring Jerry to life.

    Aaron’s story is not uncommon for Design for America. Armed with new design-thinking skills and a desire for social good, students change their majors, career goals, and their life trajectories. They uncover hidden passions and feel emboldened to pursue new ambitions. In working to shape others’ lives, students find their own lives molded.

    Team: Aaron Horowitz, Hannah Chung, Sproutel
    Partners: Beyond Type-1, Diabetes Express
  • “If it wasn’t for Jerry the Bear, I never would have found my love for mechatronics.”
    — Aaron Horowitz, Co-Founder & CEO, Sproutel, DFA Alum

    “Education now happens daily and comes from a source other than us — and during play.”
    — Parent

    “When we showed our first prototype to a child who had been waiting to see it for weeks, he was so excited. He absolutely destroyed it. We realized our prototype wasn’t a good representation of our vision, but it wasn’t a failure. It proved that the concept excites children. He was waiting for two weeks to see this bear! 
    That inspired us to make more and more.”
    — Hannah Chung, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Sproutel, DFA Alum

    “Jerry lowered my child’s stress. He’s better with shots now. We say, ‘remember how Jerry does this.’”
    — Parent