As the saying goes, build it and they will come. Or in the case of Jerry the Bear, make it cuddly and children will flock to it. The invention of two recent Northwestern University graduates that teaches children how to take charge of their type 1 diabetes coincides with a boom in the childproofing industry that includes everything from child-safe locks to professional in-home childproofing assessments.
If this seems like an odd industry to be seeing such an explosion, consider all the opportunities for growth. There will always be a market for parents to protect their children, and it’s one that requires continuous creativity and innovation. Couple that with the boom in mommy blogs and celebrity parenting news, and there’s no end to the possibilities. And you don’t have to be a mom to take part or care. The same goes for young entrepreneurs of any field. If it serves a greater good and has yet to be made, a golden opportunity awaits.
Jerry is the brainchild of Hannah Chung and Aaron Horowitz, engineering students who created the bear for Northwestern University’s Design for America Project. The theme that year was helping those with diabetes. The students knew they wanted to help children, but had to figure out what it was that was missing in the health and wellness market and in the lives of children.
When designing Jerry, the creators carved a niche; at the time, there were few products on the market for children to help them cope with their disease, let alone any that were also entertaining. It was especially needed, seeing as the disease is diagnosed in the range of from 3 to 6 years old, Chung said. She described their research and development as “human-centered design and user observation.”
What they created took their research to a new level.
“Jerry is entirely interactive,” said Horowitz, chief executive officer and chief hardware officer. “Kids take care of him much the same way that kids take care of themselves.”
Kids can inject their bears with pretend insulin and play educational games, all while keeping track of their progress.
“Here’s this medium and a tool that kids are so familiar with,” Horowitz said. With diabetes, “kids are faced with a whole host of complicated information that they have to learn.”
Product research involved talking to experts such as endocrinologists and other health care providers. But the most important pundits were the kids who would benefit from their invention. The inventors regularly saw children clutching their teddy bears, which ultimately served as inspiration.
“The best advice for creating a product which actually serves a purpose is to talk to people before you even start designing,” said Chung, the chief creative officer and chief testing officer. “Talk to people who are actually going to use it.”
Even though products like Jerry the Bear are certainly innovative, designing a successful, new product does not require re-inventing the wheel. Rather, it’s important to be sensitive and open to people’s needs. Like in the childproofing industry, there’s always room for expansion. The next steps for Chung and Horowitz are creating toys to tackle asthma and obesity in children.
“We want to continue this process of improving the lives of children with chronic illness,” Chung said.
Be it window guards or talking teddy bears, there’s a niche market out there waiting to be utilized. The industry might not be the most glamorous or obvious to the eager young entrepreneur, but it could have a big payoff in terms of social capital.
“It’s about creating a product that serves a human need,” said Chung.
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