The journey to my job this summer began the summer after my freshman year at Northwestern, when I signed up for Design for America’s summer program on a whim. This seemingly small decision turned out to be a stroke of luck that completely altered the course of my academic and professional paths. DFA introduced me to human centered design—a methodology for creating innovative solutions that focus on the needs of the user. Human centered design gave me an outlet for my proclivity towards creative work and desire to create social impact. It also inspired me in a distinctive and lasting way: it was then that I realized that design was something I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.
Fast forward through handfuls of design classes, and a research-oriented internship last summer—I now wanted to begin taking on design problems with real world results. When I saw the posting for an internship with Sproutel, I knew that it was a uniquely perfect next step. Sproutel is a start-up born from a DFA project, and the two co-founders are both DFA alums that I had met in my time at Northwestern. I was not only inspired by their mission to create social impact, but also their project’s evolution from a great idea into a business.
Sproutel Inc. is now located in Providence, RI, and operates within an accelerator called Betaspring. Its mission is to produce interactive toys for kids with chronic illnesses; right now, the company is focused on its first product, Jerry the Bear. Jerry is a cuddly teddy bear who has a computer inside of him that simulates type 1 diabetes so that children with type 1 can take care of him as they would themselves. He is interactive, so kids can feed him, take his blood glucose level and give him insulin. They can also read stories and play educational games on Jerry’s touch screen “glucopal.” What is most important about Jerry, however, is that he serves as an emotional touch point, giving a child with type 1 a friend to empathize with during intensive everyday medical procedures.
My job within the team has been to develop a marketing strategy for Jerry the Bear. Sproutel is a very young company that has not quite figured out its marketing rhythm in terms of best approaches to making sales and communicating with customers. This summer, I managed social media platforms, created marketing content, such as promotional ads, videos and posters, and aided in developing a Jerry brand. I helped run a series of micro-experiments using various different marketing techniques and approaches to find the best way to connect with the diabetes community and potential customers.
Being immersed in start-up culture, learning how to generate a community of users, and exposure to design/technology based industry have helped me learn more about what I want to do in the future. Perhaps, most importantly, I’ve been able to contribute first-hand to the process of implementing socially minded ideas so that they become reality. Overall, this summer has been an invaluable, enlightening experience that makes me even more excited for things yet to come.
Lauren Tindal is a rising senior at Northwestern studying Psychology, Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship. She interned at Sproutel Inc., a start-up in Providence, RI, this past summer.
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