John and Mark X. Cronin Speak to the Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation

The Harkin Institute held the inaugural Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation Summit this past week. The event brought together leaders from the fields of business, politics, advocacy and investment to learn about developments in the field and to share their resources. Self-advocates and people with differing abilities leading important organizations played a prominent role in the summit. John and Mark X. Cronin, co-founders of John’s Crazy Socks, were among the invitees and they presented during the second day of the Summit. 

John Cronin and Mark X. Cronin presenting at the Harkin Summit

Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation Summit

John Cronin said, “It was an honor to be invited and we met so many wonderful people and shared many good ideas. It was an amazing event." 

The Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability Driven Innovation 

Hosted by The Harkin Institute, the conference took place at Drake University in partnership with Cruise, Voya Financial, the CEO Commission for Disability Employment, the Perkins School for the Blind, Walmart and the National Down Syndrome Society. It featured two days of presentations, panel discussions, networking and a job fair.   

Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation Summit this

Topics ranged from the impact self-driving vehicles will have to new technologies that empower people with disabilities to programs to create more job opportunities for people with differing abilities. By bringing important players and their organizations together, the Summit promoted social capital among the participants. 

Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation Summit meeting with Kandi Pickard of NDSS

John’s Crazy Socks at the Harkin Summit 

John and Mark relished the opportunity to participate in the Harkin Summit. John particularly enjoyed meeting with other self-advocates who own their own business like Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn (Joe Steffy), Em’s Coffee Company (Em Hilman), Chai Ho Tea (Angad Sahgal) and Mason Metzger. 

John and Poppin Joe at the Harkin Summit on Scaling Disability-Driven Innovation Summit

Mark X. Cronin said, “The Harkin Institute stands as a beacon around the world showing the way forward to entrepreneurship, employment and promoting the rights of people with disabilities.” 

John with Em Hillman at the Harkin Summit


Part of the mission at John’s Crazy Socks is to show what people with differing abilities can achieve. That effort starts with John, an entrepreneur who happens to have Down syndrome, and extends to our hiring – more than half our colleagues have differing abilities. We host tours and work groups from schools and social service agencies so more than 2,000 students have visited our operations. John and Mark travel the country speaking to groups about the business benefits of employing people with differing abilities. 

John with Caroly Ott from the Autism Society of America

John’s Crazy Socks is a member of the CEO Commission for Disability Employment and John is a Board Member of the National Down Syndrome Society, both of which helped sponsor the event. 

John Cronin and Mark X. Cronin speaking at the Harkin Summit

During the two-day conference, John and Mark met with the diversity team from Wal-Mart (see the photo below) to explore the potential for collaboration. They shared ideas with educators from Iowa, other self-advocates and leaders from Iowa and Illinois Special Olympics. They had long conversations with Aarti Sahgal from Synergies Work. (See the photo below) And they met with representatives from the Perkins School for the Blind to discuss ways our business could support their work. 

John meets with the Walmart Diversity Team at the Harkin Summit


John meets with Synergies Work at at the Harkin Summit

JCS Champions at the Harkin Summit 

On the second day of the Harkin Summit, John and Mark gave a presentation on their new initiative, JCS Champions, a program designed to put people with differing abilities into their own business. Enrollees in the program will receive six weeks of training and then receive a “Business in a Box:” selling stands, inventory, signage and more all designed to let them set up a micro-business selling products from John’s Crazy Socks. We will provide ongoing support and the new business owners can grow their businesses by selling other products and opening more locations. John’s Crazy Socks is collaborating with and US Bank on this project. 

John meets with Joe Herst from Special Olympics Iowa at the Harkin Summit

“We will enroll the first JCS Champions this fall,” said Mark X. Cronin, “and over five years, we want to create 1,000 businesses. We want to light up America with self-advocate businesses showing what people with differing abilities can do when given the opportunity.” 

John meets with Mo Khan from Illinois Special Olympics

About the Harkin Institute 

The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement exists to inform citizens, inspire creative cooperation, and catalyze change on issues of social justice, fairness, and opportunity. 

Created by Senator Tom Harkin at Drake University, the Hark Institute has two goals: 

  • To facilitate collaborative, high-quality, nonpartisan, multi-disciplinary public policy research and analysis dedicated to the issues that defined Senator Tom Harkin’s legislative career, including labor and employment, people with disabilities, retirement security, and wellness and nutrition. 
  • To foster active and informed citizen engagement in public decision making and public policy making through education and outreach that expands the knowledge and understanding of these issue areas among students, scholars and the public. 

You can learn more about the Harkin Institute at their website. 

Mark X. Cronin and John Cronin speaking at the Harkin Summit

About John’s Crazy SocksJohn’s Crazy Socks was inspired by John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and his love of colorful and fun socks—what he calls his “crazy socks.” He and his father, Mark X. Cronin, started the company as a social enterprise with a mission of Spreading Happiness™. With more than 4,000 socks, John’s Crazy Socks is now the world’s largest sock store. More than half their employees have a differing ability, and their Giving Back program has raised over $600,000 for charity partners like the Special Olympics, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Autism Society of America. Most of all, they are Spreading Happiness™. 

For more information about John’s Crazy Socks, visit our webpage, Facebook page, Instagram account, TikTok or YouTube channel. You can also contact us at 631-760-5625 or via email at