Raindrops in the Storm

Post written by Nick Adkins

I had never been to San Francisco and seen so much rain……and, wind! It was a monsoon! At one point, I stepped out of a car and it was like being hit with a full on stream of water from a fire hose. The wind was gusting up to 50-60 mph. There were umbrellas tumbling down Geary Street. It was crazy! One of the things I’ve learned from living in Portland: have a good rain jacket and forget about an umbrella.

The 35th Annual JPM conference was in town. Think: “Super Bowl of healthcare investment conferences”. Just about every healthcare VC, investment banker, analyst, and executive that you can think of were in San Francisco to attend #JPM17. The conference spawned several other conferences like #DOCSF17, #SUHFestival, & #Wintertech. There were also a gazillion receptions to choose from each night. It was a sea of suits and money.

The most heartfelt moment for me at JPM was hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak at StartUp Health’s #SUHFestival. We were in a packed tiny little backroom (I can’t believe the fire marshal signed off on that one). I didn’t really want to go because it was so packed full of people and the temperature was like a sauna. But, I’m glad I went. Because I didn’t hear what I was expecting to hear. What I heard was a father sharing his heartspeak regarding the loss of his son. It wasn’t a political speech. It was a plea for help from the healthcare investment and tech communities. Mr. Biden choked up right at the beginning of his talk and several times throughout. Three times he said things that the audience responded to with laughter, and he said, “I’m not joking, this is real”. Cancer is real. Death is real. Having a chance to cure cancer is real. #CancerMoonshot

It is real. We have to step beyond our perceptions and let go of our expectations, and experience each other as fellow human beings. We each feel love and loss, joy and sorrow. Life is the combination of all of our experiences.

The pinksocks tribe is many things. It’s not one thing or one person. It’s not a term. It is a collective group of individuals who are trying to make a difference by seeing the good in the world, and then making an impact one person at a time.

I routinely look at daily life in terms of my experiences at Burning Man. When asked “what is Burning Man like?” I typically reply, “Burning Man is 70K people having 70K unique experiences. So, whatever you need Burning Man to be for you, is what it will be.” And, so it is with the pinksocks movement. Whatever it needs to be for you, is what it will be. To quote Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

The pinksocks tribe has been associated with healthcare disruption, patient experience, patient voice, quality improvement, clinical trials, rare disease research, cancer community, connection, and love (those last 2 are what it means to me). One of the things that the pinksocks tribe has not been associated with, is what most people see JPM as: the ugly side of healthcare capitalism.

Is there an ugly side of healthcare capitalism? Yes. Are there people inside the community trying to make a difference, seeing the good in the world, and reflecting it back on others around them? Yes.

Back to Burning Man, the very first thing the universe taught me day 1 on the playa, was to let go of making judgments based on the way I saw someone from the outside. Yeah, there are a lot of suits walking around JPM….but, in those suits are some people who have wide open hearts. People who aren’t focusing on the money. People who are being the change in the world.

There are so many entrepreneurs who attend JPM week to pitch their ideas, dreams, and hopes on how to improve healthcare for all of us. They are trying to raise money to build awesome tools to help us. The startup founders that I run into at events (and see on Twitter) that are wearing pinksocks, I know a lot of these people in real life. They each have a life story that has passionately brought them to follow their dreams of making things better. Do you believe they really want to be at these events holding their hands out for money? They would rather be home with their families, watching their children grow, playing with their dog, cuddling with their cat, planting a garden, riding their bikes, living life. They’d rather be getting shit done developing and deploying their solutions. But, this is the way business works. It takes money, and there is no better place to hit all the VC’s at once than JPM week.

So, the ask here is: don’t judge people from what you see on the outside. Whether they are a startup or a global industry leader, there are many pinksocks tribe members in the storm who are making a difference one person at a time. We are all in this together.

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