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A start-up founder hugging out health care

A huggable bear with diabetes sounds strange, but it's no child's play.

"Our first product, Jerry the Bear, is a platform for health and wellness education. We leverage that love that children have for their stuffed animals to deliver a medical grade curriculum," says Aaron Horowitz, co-founder of Sproutel.

Jerry the Bear with his insulin pen, backpack and food cards.
Source: Sproutel
Jerry the Bear with his insulin pen, backpack and food cards.

Just what the doctor ordered

Jerry the Bear is a stuffed bear designed to educate children living with Type 1 diabetes.

Kids learn to care for Jerry by monitoring his blood glucose levels, giving him insulin, watching his carbohydrate intake and by feeding him a healthy diet through his food accessories. The plush teddy bear has a computer screen on its stomach that displays information about how he feels. He comes with 21 animated storybooks all about diabetes care. The bear also has 16 sensors sewn around his body that act as potential injection sites for insulin shots.

"Children learn through play," the founder told CNBC.

All of Jerry's functions mimic daily real-world scenarios that diabetic children face. Horowitz said the goal of Jerry is to have children develop a sense of empathy and understanding so that they can take an active role in their own diabetes care.

The business behind Jerry

The retail price for Jerry is expected to come down soon, but Sproutel currently sells the bear for $300 on its website. To date, the founder said the start-up has sold 500 Jerrys.

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe, an endocrinologist at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, questioned how the founder plans to get doctors on board.

Horowitz said that this past year Sproutel introduced its bears to roughly a quarter of pediatric endocrinologists' waiting rooms across the U.S. "and now we actually have a number of hospitals who use Jerry as part of the diagnosis process."

Board member of the New York Angels Alicia Syrett said she's curious how Horowitz will work to balance investor interests with social responsibility.

"I equate delivering joy to our customers, helping these children cope with their illness, as the same thing as making sales. When we equate our bottom line and our mission directly to sales of our product, we make more kids happy," Horowitz said.

Source: Sproutel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 18,000 cases of Type 1 diabetes diagnosed every year in people younger than 20. It's this small, niche market that concerned Norwest Venture Partner Casper de Clercq. He wondered how many bears the company will actually be able to sell.

Horowitz said Sproutel was able to get bears to about 4 percent of children newly diagnosed in 2013. He added that the company is developing additional modules for the next Jerry, which will focus on food allergies and asthma. He said he hopes this move will create more user value.

Launched in February 2012, Sproutel has raised $828,000 from crowdfunding, angel investors and government funding.

The start-up is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, with four employees.

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