Toy bear designers find home in Providence

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jerry is no ordinary teddy bear. Though toddlers can still play with his woolly, brown fur and carry him around the house, Jerry the Bear requires his owners to monitor his blood glucose level, administer insulin to his body with a special pump or pen and provide him with a balanced diet of fake food designed to keep him healthy.

Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung, two Northwestern University seniors who developed Jerry the Bear, moved to Providence this past December to continue working on their venture together. They chose Providence to be closer to the resources and connections they identified after entering the Dell Social Innovation Challenge and winning a fellowship sponsored by the University.

They designed Jerry to help children diagnosed with Type I diabetes cope with the disease, which often emerges during childhood and requires constant treatment.

Because their bodies do not naturally produce enough insulin to maintain a healthy level of glucose in their blood, patients with Type I diabetes need to be administered insulin many times each day in order to survive.

“It’s really scary for a kid,” Horowitz said. “One day they go to the doctor, and the next their parents have to inject them seven, eight times a day.”

Though treatment can seem traumatizing at first, Horowitz and Chung said they believe Jerry can help kids learn to overcome their fears and teach them how to manage their disease.

“This is a toy that goes through the struggles that they go through,” Horowitz said. “Kids can’t read medical brochures — they learn by touching and doing.”

During the one-week mentoring program associated with the fellowship, Alan Harlam, director of social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center for Public Service, helped Horowitz develop the toy and contact individuals who would later work with him on the project.

“I got an email from Aaron several months ago in which he told me he was thinking about making an arrangement with Northwestern, where he could finish his studies in Providence so he could work on Jerry the Bear,” Harlam said. “Now that I think of it, the title of the email was actually ‘A Crazy Idea?'”

“Alan wrote, ‘You could totally do that — and you could stay in my house,” Horowitz said.

Now, Horowitz and Chung share a room in Harlam’s home. Living together in the same house as their mentor allows them to bounce ideas off one another constantly, Chung said.

“Because we’re living together and sharing the place together, we think about Jerry the Bear all the time,” Chung said. “We live Jerry the Bear.”

Though still taking Northwestern classes via Skype, Horowitz and Chung use all their spare time to further develop both the marketing and design of Jerry the Bear. For them, Providence is the ideal place to work on their business.

“It’s such a great city,” Chung said. “People love to help you out and connect with you. We have so much support from students.”

Once they reach their goal of successfully producing and marketing Jerry the Bear to the Type I diabetes community, Horowitz and Chung want to work on instructive, interactive toys to cater to other medical communities, like asthma and epilepsy patients.

But until then, they are laboring over Jerry.