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Users, feedback and a bear: How one healthcare entrepreneur tested his product

Ryan Amin

Healthcare entrepreneurs can see the potential for a product's success in the raw concept, but the product must go through a critical testing phase to reach that potential. "People get worried being a healthcare entrepreneur, and the best approach is to validate your idea," said Sproutel co-founder Aaron Horowitz.

Sproutel's first product, Jerry the Bear, is an educational tool that comes with a backpack, collection of food discs, and insulin tools similar to what kids would use. He plays games, tells stories and helps kids learn about diabetes and have fun. "Feeding" Jerry his food helps kids build good habits while managing their own diabetes.

"We make sure all our research is validated by doctors, people in the diabetes community, thought leaders, bloggers and experts," said Horowitz. "We wanted to make sure that the medical information for children is not just topical, but has some real lasting impact."

How do you go about testing? "Go to users and test with them. Make very simple prototypes. I wish we took the original stuffed animal and stuck a walkie-talkie in it to make a really rough "duct tape and glue' prototype," Horowitz said.

For Sproutel, product testing and research was a priority not only in the beginning, but for future expansion as well. "This isn't a toy; it is a medical device and educational tool. We wanted to design a program that children would continuously use, so interaction analysis was a key in our research...We did multiple stages of engagement research for usage, information retaining, comfort and effects of different programming styles," said Horowitz.

Jerry is just the first interactional device Sproutel is planning. In the future, the company hopes to develop programs for children with other chronic illnesses like obesity and asthma. "The proper programming is what will allow for expansion of the company," said Horowitz. "One thing we point to is previous research with gaming and diabetes with a game called Packy and Marlon. There was a clinical study on children using the game, where they played for a 6-month period for a total of 34 hours that directly correlated to a 75 percent reduction in urgent care visits." Sproutel uses research studies and product testing analysis as a focal point for investment pitches and marketing to consumers.

Here are other entrepreneurial insights from Horowitz:

Finding the right team - "When we brought on Andrew Berkowitz as our VP of Engineering, it was critical because we were increasing our team by 150 percent," said Horowitz. "It was a patient process for us to figure out who we wanted to join our team, and we wanted someone who not only has a proper educational background, but a passion for the work that we share."

Social media feedback - "We make our company very accessible through Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets," said Horowitz. "In the healthcare market, we feel social media mostly helps us gain consumer feedback which is key for us as a startup." Sproutel plans to use the feedback to help with programming and testing for future products.

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