Editor’s note: Renee Wright and Allan Maurer are covering the 25th Cucalorus Festival this week in Wilmington for WRAL TechWire. Check back daily for more reports.

WILMINGTON –Back in 2010, healthcare executive and entrepreneur Nick Adkins attended the Burning Man festival and “It changed my life,” he said, one result being the bringing of his message to Cucalorus Connect.

Wearing a kilt, boots with pink socks, and prominent tattoos at Thursday’s event, Adkins explained the genesis of the nonprofit Pinksocks Life movement, which fosters human connections via gifts of distinctive, mustache adorned pink socks.

Nick Adkins at Cucalorus Connect. Photo by Allan Maurer. Copyright Capitol Broadcasting Co. ARR

One of the traditions at the Burning Man festival – “Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome,” its website says – that most impressed Adkins is the idea of gifting.

He explained, a gift can be fresh water, a beer, a back rub, a bracelet or a necklace, pancakes, or bacon. The principle of gifting does not require quid pro quo. If you give me something, I don’t have to give you a gift in return. A person’s accepting the other’s gift is the gift. Accepting with gratitude and love. Seeing, really seeing, the other person in that moment…..that’s the magic.

Adkins opened his talk with a photo showing him clean shaven in a suit and tie and said, “I didn’t always look like this.”

Nick Adkins connecting with audience members following his keynote talk at Cucalorus Connect. Photo by Allan Maurer. Copyright Capitol Broadcasting Co. ARR

Previously, he was an MBA working for the Vanderbilt Health Plus Plans in Nashville, and was the COO at two Nashville-based healthcare companies. In 2012 he ditched the suit and moved to Portland, Oregon, where he co-founded a health tech startup.

Adkins started wearing kilts after moving to Portland, and said, “When you wear a kilt, you have to wear fun socks. My friend, and co-founder at a health tech startup, Andrew Richards and I were on a business trip to San Francisco trying to raise money from some Bay Area VCs.”

The gifting connection

They met an older couple over breakfast one morning and the husband loved Adkin’s robot monkey socks. He happened to have another pair and gifted them to the man. Adkins said he felt “how amazing the connection between two people can be from gifting.”

The next healthcare conference they attended was the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) event in Chicago in 2015.

“As we prepared to go to HIMMS we packed our bags full of what had turned out to be the crowd favorites every time I wore them – the pink socks with the mustaches. Every time someone came up to us and commented on our socks and asked us about them, we reached into our bags and gave them a pair of pink socks,” Adkins said.

“We may have been better off handing out business cards,” Adkins quipped, but the gifting led to the creation of the Pinksocks Life movement.

Adkins and his partner continued the practice of giving out the pink socks at other conferences and in 2015, founded PinkSocks Life.

Its website explains, “Pinksocks Life Inc. is a nonprofit organization focused on promoting human connection around the world by socially supporting other public charities. 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.”

Nick Adkins explains the Pinksocks movement at Cucalorus Connect. Photo by Allan Maurer. Copyright Capitol Broadcasting Co. ARR

Adkins said, “We support causes around the world that make a difference. We’re a force multiplier.” He added, “We’re swimming in connectivity today, but there is a difference between connectivity and connection.”

He had the audience stand, look at the person standing next to them and say, “I see you.”

Key points

Among the points he made during the session were:

  • The movement is centered on an act of giving which is much needed when acts of generosity are in short supply.
  • Everyone has a story to share. We just have to stop and listen.
  • You can control how you interact with people one smile at a time.
  • Every time you wear your pinksocks, you are going to make someone smile. At the end of the session, helpers passed out pinksocks to the audience, complete with hugs.

Adkins currently serves on the advisory board at Cloudbreak Health, a leading telemedicine platform in the U.S., and is on the advisory board of doc.ai, an artificial intelligence company which wants to decentralize precision medicine on blockchain.

More Cucalorus headlines

Digital humans with star’s voice such as Cate Blanchett could answer your healthcare questions


It’s a b-i-g party! Cucalorus Festival kicks off in Wilmington