Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung

Health & Wellbeing

Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung are the brains behind Jerry the Bear — a cuddly toy that helps children learn how to manage their diabetes.

Last month we came across a bear with a difference. Jerry the Bear is a teddy designed to help children diagnosed with diabetes manage and understand their condition. Jerry’s eyelids can close to show he is low in energy, until he is fed certain foods or given a pretend insulin injection which then boost his glucose levels, indicated on a screen implanted into his belly.

Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung are the two students behind this healthcare innovation, the idea for which arose out of personal experience. Hannah’s father and grandparents have Type II diabetes. After her grandfather passed away from hypoglycemia, she was reminded of the importance of managing diabetes effectively. Aaron was diagnosed with Human Growth Hormone Deficiency when he was a child and had to have regular injections for four years. As a result he developed a strong sense of empathy with children who have to continually monitor and cope with their diabetes.

Aaron made the most of his college education to create his own major in Mechatronics and User Interaction Design, with the express purpose of learning the necessary engineering skills to create Jerry the Bear. Hannah is the creative force behind the business — illustrating and designing all the ideas and making sure that the product is accessible and intuitive to the young users. She was recently listed as one of the Top 15 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc. Magazine. We got in touch with Hannah and Aaron to find out how their creation is coming along.

1. Where did the idea for Jerry the Bear come from?

Jerry was born out of observing parents and children affected by Type 1 Diabetes. It was the first project taken on by Design for America, a non-profit (co-founded by Hannah) that empowers students to use design to create social good. The key insight was realizing the attachment that children have to their teddy bears. We asked ourselves, what if this toy that children already carry around with them could be used as a learning tool?

2. When designing Jerry, did you set out to create a soft toy that could also educate, or an educational tool that could also be cuddled?

Jerry began by seeing the connections that children shared with their stuffed animals. We worked backwards from there to weave in education through natural play scenarios.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

It may sound cliché, but our workday is never typical. There are cyclic phases, each with their own rhythm, from product to business development. Most recently our days have been heavily focused on fundraising — so lots of calls, emails, and meetings.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Jerry the Bear?

Aaron — When not working on Jerry the Bear I enjoy surfing and longboarding. There’s something about skating/paddling around that completely clears your head and lets you focus in on what’s important in life. Hannah — I like to illustrate, write in my journal, and go to live concerts.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

The secret sauce is embracing failure. Learning from your mistakes and adapting quickly to correct your course. If you fail early, and often, you can figure out what doesn’t work before it’s too late!

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Let us quickly rephrase this question to — what is currently driving us crazy! There are certainly many things, but one does seem to stand out above the rest. A couple of months ago we had gotten our new circuit boards in and they were acting a bit peculiarly. Instead of playing Jerry’s voice they were picking up a local Spanish radio station! It was a humorous head-scratcher that definitely drove us a little nutty.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

Seeing the look on kids’ faces when they play with Jerry is what wakes us up in the morning. There is nothing more gratifying than bringing joy to someone’s life, it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

We would have conducted more user research (talking to doctors, parents, and children) from the start. Before we ever built our first prototype we would have become experts in diabetes. To add to that, we would have tested our earlier prototypes with more children for even more feedback between each iteration.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

In five years we will have expanded our product offerings to support children with asthma and obesity. To reach this we will prove our system of education through play with Jerry the Bear and work out a replicable model that can be applied to other chronic illnesses. We will continually be building communities around our products that bring people together.

10. If you weren’t working on Jerry the Bear, what would you be doing?

Aaron – I would be finding a way to apply the skills that I have to help people. While I’m not sure how that would have taken shape, I think I can guess what it would be like (wink). Hannah – I want to mentor students to pursue their passion, and unlock their potential to create change and help the community around them. It may be a form of an organization/school in different countries.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

There is a rumour that Jerry will be launching on Kickstarter for pre-orders sometime around October of this year. Get excited because there just might be a video of us dressed up in bear suits!

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Aaron – If you have an idea for something, immediately start talking to your potential customers. If things look good, become an expert in that area and then start building. Don’t be confined by the skills that you currently have, because if you have a purpose you can gain whatever technical abilities you need to execute your idea. As an example, before starting Jerry the Bear we didn’t know a thing about robotics! It wasn’t easy or fast, but we learned what we needed to bring our idea to fruition. Hannah – Find a teammate who can challenge you to become better, and can give constructive feedback in your entrepreneurial journey. Talk to your mentors and advisors. Cultivate the relationship early.

You can read more about Jerry the Bear in our article here, or visit the Jerry the Bear website here.