Our little robotic teddy friend affectionately known as Jerry the Bear (with diabetes) made the trek to the White House recently, and snagged a seat in a room where the president was speaking!
Yep, it was all part of the first-ever White House Maker Faire event, a type of invention and innovation science fair gathering entrepreneurs and designers at the Nation's Capitol to show off their work and network with fellow inventors. Jerry and his young creators, non-PWDs Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung (CEO and CCO of the new company, respectively) took their bear to the White House on June 18 for this inaugural Day of Making Event, where a handful of announcements were made about sparking entrepreneurial creativity and innovation.
As you probably remember, Jerry's the cute and cuddly stuffed bear sporting a color screen and several sensors on his body to help him "live with diabetes" just like the children he's meant to befriend. By pressing the sensors on his legs, arm and buttocks, his owner-child can give him an insulin shot. Jerry's fingers have sensors, too, where kids can check his blood sugar -- as well as feeding Jerry by swiping a "smart food card" over his mouth that calculates how much carbohydrate he's eating. All of this plays out on his little computer screen known as the Glucopal, which looks like a pump or CGM, and kids can play little games with it too.
Children ages 3 and older learn to count their own carbs by looking at the food on Jerry's plate, do insulin injections and become more comfortable with the daily tasks of diabetes overall, Aaron says. Their research shows that even after having Jerry in their home for six months, kids are still playing with this learning tool/toy for more than one hour per week.
"It's all about building fresh behaviors from the start, and doing it in a way that's fun," Aaron says.
We're excited to hear about Jerry's latest adventures on Capitol Hill, and that he's expanding his reach; after starting shipments late last year, the Rhode Island-based interactive toy startup Sproutel that's behind the cuddly teddy has sent out 30o bears to kids across the country, and they're working with diabetes camps, national clinics and other groups to bring Jerry into more homes.
Aside from the White House visit, this is actually a big week for Jerry and Sproutel, as they're kicking off a crowdfunding campaign that's meant to be the first step toward an ambitious goal: Getting a Jerry the Bear into the hands of every child newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Jerry has come a long way since first being pitched to the community in 2009, to now making it to the White House and being in the same room as the president!
No, Jerry didn't get to meet President Barack Obama personally, as he spoke to the group from a podium and then had to dash out right away to take of some national business. But Aaron and Hannah's creation was one of just over 100 inventions from more 25+ states whose makers were invited to attend this exclusive event.
While Jerry wasn't the only healthcare-related invention, Aaron says he does think the teddy bear was the only diabetes-specific product present. They also got to meet Dean Kamen, who first invented the wearable insulin pump as a college undergrad in the 1970s before going off into his own tech and entrepreneurial ventures.
"The whole experience was kind of surreal," Aaron told us by phone recently. "You see a lot of photos and movie sets of the White House, and that's how I felt when I was there. The president gave an address and there were all sorts of tech enablers and makers from all across the country. It was a celebration of everyone who's empowered with the ability to take their ideas and bring them into reality, and we were just honored to be there and be recognized."
Wow! Huge props to these Northwestern University grads for their entrepreneurial spirit, and for jumping into the Diabetes Community even without a personal connection to this disease.
Their new Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, with the title "Reinventing Diabetes Education Through Play," kicked off yesterday (Tuesday, July 8), and will run through Sept. 4, 2014. With the goal of getting Jerry into the hands of every child diagnosed in the coming year, the first step is securing $20,000 to do the next production run for the 12,000 kids newly-diagnosed each year in the U.S. Aaron tells us it could cost as much as $3 million to get a bear to every new CWD in the country.
"It's not an inconceivable amount of money, and there's enough support and interest to do this," Aaron says. "Our first shipment last year was 2% of the newly-diagnosed kids here, so if we can do that, there's a way to do this. We're confident that we can elevate this cause to the spotlight, and we might even find someone who wants to fund all of these bears. We're looking at this through the lens of using the campaign and the groundswell we've already seen from families and the DOC."
The idea for the crowdfunding campaign came from a combination of seeing others use this platform and efforts related to Jerry the Bear specifically. A D-Dad in Canada used crowdfunding to raise $3 million for the JDRF in his region of that country, and Aaron says that amount would be the cost of donating a Jerry to every child diagnosed in the U.S. annually. And here in the U.S., a young girl who has a neighbor friend with type 1 started a small crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to buy a Jerry within four hours of the campaign starting!
"You multiply that by 12,000, and you can do this. We can do this," Aaron says. "If every family could start their own crowdfunding campaign, maybe people could get 10 friends to contribute at any level."
Families will be able to buy a bear directly at $299 each, or others can purchase one to donate to other kids, or even camps. Sproutel is partnering with the Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA) to donate bears to diabetes camps across the country. Last year, they donated 40 bears, with four camps getting 10 bears each. This year, they hope to work with more D-camps and allow for fun programs like Adopt-A-Bear, in which each cabin would have their own Jerry.
The startup has also been working with the Type 1 Diabetes Network, which has a system of support networks, gathering applications for families who can't afford to buy their own Jerry. Those hardship families will receive the first bears that are sent out, and from there it's first-come/first-serve, Aaron tells us.
"Jerry has become an integral part of their daily lives, and diabetes becomes a conversation point for families, where it's not about diabetes per se, but Jerry's diabetes. It's not so scary and it takes the stress and emphasis off the child, to make them see they're not the only ones going through this-- that they aren't alone," Aaron says.
We've been huge fans of Jerry from the start, and I particularly can relate to this idea so well -- I didn't have a Jerry or even a JDRF Rufus toy back in my newly-diagnosed days, but just a stuffed Froggy who had to fit that role of helping me feel less alone. I actually played at giving him insulin shots (using old needles), poking his "fingers," and just having a friend go through diabetes with me. Jerry brings back those memories, and makes me smile just thinking about how nice it would have been to have a friend like him.
We are totally behind this crowdfunding campaign, hoping to help bring these bears into more homes and camp settings. Luckily, there's already been much interest and DOC involvement with Jerry, from giveaways to the You Can Do This Project campaign last year. We can't wait to see how this latest campaign materializes.
"We're so fortunate to be in this community that's so welcoming and accepting, and we just want to be able to give back," Aaron says. Now there's some Type 3/Type Awesome enthusiasm that we can really appreciate!