WILMINGTON — Cucalorus Connect, held Nov. 14 and 15 in Wilmington, explores the intersection between creativity, technology, and humanity, this year with a different structure and emphasis on innovative healthcare technology.

The two-day gathering brings people together to discuss what kind of future we could build if we use innovation and technology to expand our sense of humanity. The conference features leading thinkers on health, finance, startups, coastal resilience, racial justice.

This year says Dan Brawley, director of Cucalorus, the structure of the event has changed. “It’s more holistic and less compartmentalized. As it evolved, we’ve gotten more clear about the type of experience we wanted to create for people.”

Dan Brawley, director of Cucalorus. Photo by R Wright.

Though it began as primarily a business conference, “It isn’t just a conference about how to make money,” Brawley said. “It’s a conference about how to make the world a better place using technology and creativity.”

Nick Adkins, co-founder of Pinksocks Life, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting human connection around the world, will deliver the keynote address on “The Power of Connection”

The pinksocks movement empowers people from all walks of life to connect with anyone, anywhere, by creating a global tribe of pinksocks-wearing people who are focused on empathy, caring and love. The movement has been decommoditized from its beginning in 2015 – all pinksocks are gifts. Every connection made between the gift giver and recipient is based on an authentic connection, not a transaction.

Pinksocks movement founder Nick Adkins keynotes Cucalorus Connect this year. Photo courtesy of Cucalorus.

Focus on future healthcare

There is a lot of focus in the program on the future of healthcare with an emphasis on helping people discover new ways to use innovation and technology. “How mind-bending it is that you can improve your health in ways we never imagined,” said Brawley.

One of the sessions Brawley finds most interesting is Marie Johnson’s “Digital Humans in Healthcare.” Johnson will talk about what she sees as her moon shot, where digital humans are part of an augmented health ecosystem: helping patients and reducing staff burnout.

The digital avatars talk to you all the time and have to be real and authentic, notes Brawley. “It’s challenging,” he said, “Ten times harder than making a movie.”

Johnson, an Australian entrepreneur, conceived and led the global co-design effort with people with disabilities to deliver “Nadia” the first AI digital human for service delivery. This work sparked a global industry and appetite for AI-powered digital humans.

An AI Digital Human Cardiac Coach is Johnson’s current effort. Its day to day indicators may even be able to predict when a patient will suffer a heart attack. “It’s a wildly creative app that promises to change things,” Brawley said. “Some of the most creative people in the world are computer programmers. The things they do with ones and zeroes are incredible.”

Film explores regenerative medicine

Other health-focused sessions include “Regenerative Medicine in the film Five Minutes.” Five Minutes is a film about Baptiste Touissant’s recovery when a suicide bomber detonated only feet from him in Afghanistan and his hope for regenerative medicine (RM) for U.S. soldiers.

RM promises a future where doctors, using a soldier’s own cells, rebuild genitalia and reconstruct arms and legs blown apart by shrapnel. The animated narrative film is a five-year effort directed, produced and edited by Wake Forest University faculty. Wake Forest is a leader in RM research.

“More Than Words: how visuals can help us heal healthcare,” examines how words alone can’t efficiently explain bodily sensations or lifetime journeys. They can’t sufficiently show emotions or trauma. As a result, patients and doctors often don’t understand each other, and our broken healthcare system bumbles along. This session will feature stories from a doctor and a patient who have each discovered new ways of communicating using visuals and drawing.

Apart from the healthcare focus, one of the most interesting sessions is “You’re in the matrix and just don’t know it.” Two University of North Carolina at Wilmington professors discuss the possibility that we may all be living in the paradigm developed in The Matrix movie franchise.

Dr. Curry Guinn and Dr. Julian Keith, UNCW professors, will discuss the possibility that we’re in the matrix and don’t know it. Photo by R Wright.

The conference does still cover hot business topics, from the “Influence of Design,” to Martech. “Martech” is the latest buzzword in the marketing industry. It refers to any technology that a marketer can use to reach a potential customer…from social media scheduling platforms to email.

The session highlights how to use Martech in all phases of marketing and PR campaigns – from strategic planning to implementation and results measurement – with the goal to create efficient and effective campaigns.

Another session looks at Blockchain technology, contrasting “what’s hot vs. what’s hype.”

Image courtesy of Cucalorus

The 10X10 Challenge returns this year. Ten entrepreneurs are paired with 10 filmmakers and challenged to make a three-minute promo video in five days. The films are shown on Sunday. The Rocket Pitch event is a fast-paced pitch competition. startups go head-to-head with just 90 seconds and one slide to capture audience votes.

Startups pitching include:


Brandon Noel

An all-in-one solution compliance platform for North Carolina bars to manage members.

GreenStream Technologies

Karen Lindquist

Monitors and reports conditions in the environment with an end-to-end solution for floods in urban, suburban, rural and even remote environments.

Language Corpus

Reid Wilson

A subscription-based offering for intermediate and advanced language learners to understand what people are saying to them, around them and about them.


David Stone

Apartment complexes share what is known as a “competitive portfolio.” Survei speeds up the process, while also increasing data reliability.

Safe and Sound

Elizabeth Baker, Stacey Kolomer

A disaster management mobile app which informs managers of colleagues’ locations in a crisis, while maintaining security and privacy for a healthy work/life balance not given when using social media.


Claire Holroyd

A toolkit proven in the real world with thousands of teachers and children to make the most of child’s early development and learning through play.

See the 10X20 and Rocket pitch session description for links to the companies.