High-tech teddy bear creator to deliver engineering entrepreneurial lecture Feb. 25

Jerry the Bear helps kids understand diabetes and self-care


Jerry the Bear helps hundreds of kids diagnosed with type 1 diabetes learn to take care of themselves. Jerry has sensors throughout his body and a screen in his belly. Kids can “feed” him different foods, squeeze his fingers to check his blood sugar levels, and give him “shots” with a pretend insulin pen.

Hannah Chung and Jerry the Bear.

Jerry’s co-creator, Hannah Chung, will deliver the School of Engineering’s Chambers Family Entrepreneurial Lectureship Thursday, Feb. 25, at 4:10 p.m. in the Jacobs Believed In Me Auditorium, Featheringill Hall, Room 134. A reception in Adams Atrium will follow the lecture, which is part of the School’s 2016 Engineering Week events.

In her lecture – “Empathy-driven design: Creating something meaningful” – Chung will “share her journey all the way from the start since she was a student, and how empathy-led design has helped her not only overcome failures and uncertainties but also strengthen her creative confidence.”

Chung, now 26, and Aaron Horowitz, conceived of Jerry as a design project in 2009 while mechanical engineering students at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering. Graduating in 2012, weeks later they incorporated their company, called Sproutel. They created 29 prototypes for Jerry before they got to the first commercial version.

Jerry the Bear is the company’s first product. Chung, Spoutel’s chief creative officer, and company CEO Horowitz plan to brand Jerry as a tool to address other childhood health conditions.

Jerry, aimed at children ages 3 to 7, went on the market in 2013. Chung says the company has sold or donated more than 500 bears. Most are in families’ homes, and some are in the waiting rooms of pediatric endocrinologists.

Sproutel’s team has been busy updating the teddy bear and making him more user-friendly based on customer feedback. They also are working with insurance providers to make Jerry, originally priced at $249, more affordable for families, according to an October 2015 Boston Globe article.

Kids feed Jerry a healthy diet and keep his blood sugar level in a good range by counting carbs and matching insulin doses.

Jerry comes with a backpack, 21 interactive storybooks, 10 food cards, an insulin pen, six injection sites and four tickle spots. When his blood sugar level goes high or low, Jerry speaks his symptoms.

In late 2015, Sproutel announced an update that should help Jerry reach a much wider market.

The new Jerry, in his basic version, costs $99 and teaches kids about general health. His screen is detachable; you can hold it over his mouth to feed him or brush his teeth, or “scan” his body to see how his organs are working. Modules for diabetes or for food allergies, with a pretend EpiPen, can be purchased for $50.

Chung said she hoped sales of the new Jerry will let the company create options for even more chronic conditions. Sproutel is taking preorders for the new Jerry, and aims to ship him in the summer of 2016.

“Instead of having multiple bears for multiple conditions, it’s just one bear you can customize. Our goal is to be profitable so we can fund different modules,” Chung says. “Even though it might affect 10 kids or 100 kids, we can still make a module to help them.”

Sproutel was named one of the “Top 5 Startups that Use Tech To Do Good” by Mashable in 2012 and “Best of 2013 Design” by GOOD magazine. In 2012, Chung was named one of the “Top 15 Women to Watch in Tech” by Inc Magazine and recently won the Perfect Pitch competition at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, where Warren Buffet was one of the judges.

She has spoken at numerous conferences, including Design and Emotion, ACM Creativity & Cognition, RISD Mindshare, IFTF, and Women@TheFrontier by Singularity University and NASA. Before co-founding Sproutel, Hannah co-founded Design for America, a national student organization that helps students solve local social problems through design. She currently sits on the Design for America advisory board as a national advisor.

The Chambers Family Entrepreneurial Lectureship in the Vanderbilt School of Engineering is a semi-annual lecture series endowed by the Chambers Medical Foundation.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering