Rhode Island innovation was on display in the nation’s capital when the founders of Providence start-up Sproutel demonstrated its flagship product for President Obama at the first-ever White House Demo Day.
Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz were trying to make health care education fun for kids when they came up with “Jerry the Bear,” a smart stuffed animal with educational apps that help kids build healthy behaviors centered on nutrition, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. By combining educational storytelling apps and a playful, robotic physical companion, Jerry helps kids lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives.
“The idea came while we were interviewing families with type 1 diabetes. And we saw something really cool. All the kids were taking their stuffed animals and playing doctor. They would make their own little insulin pens and pretend to inject their bears,” Aaron explains. “So we wanted to bring that to life. We wanted to do it in a way that was educational, but also fun and comforting because learning about these things shouldn’t be scary.”
Now Sproutel has expanded its product line to bring super fun, medical-grade education to children. The latest version of Jerry the Bear now offers play patterns that convey the best practices in nutrition, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. Parents can select from a portfolio of health and wellness stories, including diabetes, food allergies, and asthma. That kind of innovative thinking earned them an invitation to talk with the President.
Jerry looks just like teddy bears you would find in any toy department, but with one big difference – he’s interactive. To find out how he’s feeling, all a child has to do is squeeze his finger. If Jerry needs insulin, giving him a dose is as easy as tapping a toy syringe on one of his injection spots. Kids can even feed Jerry toy crackers to keep his insulin levels healthy. “Num, num, num,” he responds.
By combining educational storytelling apps and a playful, robotic physical companion, Jerry helps kids lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives. Additional modules customize Jerry to provide specific education for chronic illnesses like type 1 diabetes. Jerry was used by 4 percent of all children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2014 and is available at 25 percent of pediatric endocrinologist offices.
“The research shows when stress is reduced in the home it leads to much better outcomes later on. And play is how kids learn. Age 4-to-9 is this really magical window when they’re still forming behaviors and still forming their habits. We want to set them up for healthy lives,” says Aaron.