McCormick graduate wins Fortune startup contest
October 25, 2013 •
A recent Northwestern alumna won a startup pitch competition Oct. 17 for an interactive teddy bear that teaches children how to treat their own Type 1 diabetes.
Hannah Chung (McCormick ’12) was the youngest contestant at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. She pitched Jerry the Bear, the first product of her startup Sproutel, to a panel of judges that included businessman and billionaire Warren Buffett.
“(Buffett) seemed very supportive,” Chung said. “Even though his age is 83, he has so much energy, and he’s just living the life. I think he’s a very inspiring person.”
Jerry the Bear’s body has a touchscreen and various injection sites on which children with Type 1 diabetes can simulate their own treatment.
“By actually practicing the regimen on the bear, they can cope with their emotions really easily because when you’re newly diagnosed, injections are really scary, and you don’t know what is going on,” Chung said. “By playing with Jerry the Bear, it really makes the education part fun.”
Chung co-founded Sproutel, which focuses on interactive, educational games for children with chronic illnesses, with classmate Aaron Horowitz (McCormick ’12).
“The reason (Jerry) is particularly fun is that there’s actually a game behind it,” said Horowitz, the company’s CEO. “The game is that you train Jerry for the Olympics, and in order to do that, you have to help him master all sorts of different sports, and in conjunction with that, you have to keep his glucose level in a good place, so he can win.”
Northwestern trustee Cathy Coughlin (Weinberg ’79) also judged the competition.
“I love the marriage of technology with this human problem,” Coughlin said.
Chung said she thought her pitch went well and that her company got a lot of publicity from the competition.
“It was really amazing because the whole conference was streaming live on CNN,” Chung said. “It was being streamed nationwide and internationally, too, and I thought it was a really great exposure for our company.”
While at NU, Chung co-founded Design for America, which aims to use design for social impact, in the spring of 2009. The group has since spread to 17 studios in universities across the nation. Chung said the concept for Jerry the Bear originated from a DFA project.
Chung said Sproutel also has ideas for products to help children cope with autism and asthma.