Two summers ago, President Obama invited a group of young entrepreneurs, Hannah’s Chung included, to the first-ever White House Demo Day focused solely on entrepreneurship. While other twenty-something year-olds celebrated the end of another fleeting summer, Hannah, founder and Chief Creative Officer was just getting started.
A couple years back, the bright, gutsy college student sacrificed her own personal savings to take the big leap. As co-founder of Sproutel, Hannah first introduced the country to a toy bear that teaches kids with illness about how to care for themselves.
“A lot of information is marketed towards adults” Hannah begins. Designed like a toy teddy bear, Jerry is actually a platform for teaching kids about their own health needs. As they care for the toy by feeding it the right foods, treating it with insulin when its sick, and squeezing its fingers to test its glucose levels, they’re really learning about Type I diabetes, and how to care for themselves.
For Hannah, an itinerant background defined her childhood. Born in Minnesota, she made brief stints in South Korea, Texas, Wisconsin, and other places in-between, never staying in one place long enough to feel a real belonging. Once she graduated high school, she began her college career as an engineering student at Northwestern University, always maintaining that she wanted to use her degree for socially-motivated causes.
The idea for Jerry began as a college project, and building the first prototype was beyond terrifying for her: “I didn’t know how to sew”, she admits. “You had to hold him gently or his head would fall off.”
With Aaron, (then a college classmate), Hannah began improving the prototype little by little. Long nights gave way to frustrations though, and faced with demanding academic schedules, Aaron made a bold suggestion. Through a random connection, he had met the head of the Social Entrepreneurship Program at Brown University, who lived tucked away in a small off-campus house in Providence. Rather than try to build their prototype against two-full academic course loads and a shoestring budget, why not move to the college town, where they could access the test equipment for free, he proposed. The only caveat: they’d have to lighten their academic loads and live with the mentor in the only available space in his home—his attic.
But it worked, crazily enough. So in the fall of her senior year, Hannah moved to Providence, where she completed her remaining college credits via Skype, and spent the rest of her time working full-time on her prototype.
The move would cause a real rift between Hannah and her parents though, whose worst fear was Hannah’s dropping out of school. (She would go on to graduate on-time with the rest of her class). But significantly, her invention transformed into something more sophisticated, and kids actually liked it. “We’ve seen four-year-olds getting over their fear of insulin injections,” Aaron tells.
Jerry has done well commercially, and since it’s official launch, has been featured on INC., Mashable, Yahoo!, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and even inside The White House. For someone who used a rent-free attic to design something so ingenious, her advice to young women is simple. “Just because it’s not an option doesn’t mean you can’t do it”, she says. “You just have to create it.”