Danny Potocki is an entrepreneur and managing director of Accel7, a startup accelerator that provides training and guidance to early-stage tech companies, including many in the Hudson Valley.
You can see Danny talk about Accel7 on Cheddar’s Opening Bell in this video segment, “How Accel7 is Making Mental Health a Priority in the Startup World.”
Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?
My wife, Kimberly, and I recently moved to the Kingston area in Ulster County, where she was raised, and where we will raise our family.
As Managing Director of Accel7, an early-stage accelerator training and advising technology entrepreneurs to launch impact-driven businesses, I am passionate about investing in and educating founders and creatives who want to make a difference in the Greater Hudson Valley region. We want to bring the best minds here to solve big challenges for the world.
I am obsessed with figuring out how to launch and grow companies that will reshape how we live in our communities. I teach entrepreneurship as an adjunct at my alma mater, Iona College, too, working with undergraduate and graduate students to spark ideas and business models, and have worked with the Hudson Valley Venture Hub at SUNY New Paltz to bring leaders together to support startup companies.
All of my activities are centered around these focus areas, which is why I energize myself through meditation and prayer, physical fitness and adventures, and research and scholarship.
How did you discover the Hudson Valley?
Kingston was my bridge to the Hudson Valley. When I was a senior in high school at Iona Prep in New Rochelle, our baseball team was nationally ranked, so many schools in the area invited us to play at their field. It was the first time I was north of Fishkill, and I remember how pitch black it was to me, especially having grown up in Yonkers.
No more than six months later, I was visiting my then-girlfriend and wife, Kimberly, who grew up down the street from the baseball field where I played that night. Kim opened my mind, heart and consciousness (in many ways) to not only Kingston, but the region, with musicians, artists and good families at the center of everything I discovered. Now living here and raising four children together, I am deeply focused on working with early companies to bring more families back to the area to live and work in the region.
What do you hope to see in the Hudson Valley startup scene in the next few years?
I want to see more companies come to the Greater Hudson Valley from NYC, the Northeast and other startup hotspots. We have worked with teams from NYC and the West Coast in this region, but want them to stay and grow to 50+ employee companies hiring talent in our seven counties.
This year, we partnered with the City of New Rochelle to open our Hudson Valley South offices at the train station in downtown New Rochelle, and are working with Think Dutchess and CO Coworking in Rhinebeck to provide office space to startup founders and early teams. We have a vision to partner with counties and municipalities to bring more innovation to the region through training, education and advisement programs for entrepreneurs, creatives and students.
We see a lot of local companies based in Poughkeepsie and Kingston, but most are still from Westchester County where I was born and raised, and NYC, of course. We have a goal to start a robust startup database to identify ideas and founders and match them with the needs of the communities; this will build on the work started at the Venture Hub at SUNY New Paltz.
What do you think would make the Hudson Valley startup scene really take off?
Startup scenes are all about talent. Every major startup ecosystem or hub is grounded by one or more Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) who are accredited research-based colleges and/or universities. As of today, our Mid-Hudson Region, which spans the seven counties of Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess on the east side of the River, and Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster on the west side, has about 35-40 IHEs with zero research-based institutions.
I don’t think we need another college to move into our area, which some associations have advocated for; instead, we need to do what every good community does and that is build up our neighbors and catapult our institutions into research institutions, which will help attract and retain talent – and ideas – in one of the most beautiful places to live and work in the country.
Accel7, with the “7” in our name named after the seven counties, is going to start raising a fund through our accelerator program to attract the best founders and teams to the region. We want to create more energy around what is already happening here – the establishment of the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, the Good Work Institute educating emerging leaders, and the Hudson Valley Startup Fund investing in locally-based, rapid-scale founders who are building next-gen solutions.
Walk us through a typical day.
My mantra, daily, is to live close to my intention. To do that, I have structured my days around “cues” that help me focus on what is most important.
After a morning spark, which is typically a light workout, I usually write until I make breakfast with kids and walk one block to school with neighbors in Hurley, which is one of many reasons why we love our where we live.
If I do not have a meeting with one of our startup companies or partners, I work in my home office most mornings to tackle tasks. We live on historic Main St, so it is a healthy mix of quiet and noise that reminds me of our days living in Boston, D.C., and time spent in NYC.
After some meetings or training sessions with teams in our 4-week, 8-week or 12-week cohort programs, I go for a run or single-track mountain bike ride to refresh.
I have learned to finish work hours with a focus session, because if I don’t then promises and tasks go unfinished at the end of the day. The asks and activities pile-up, so I strive to maintain flow state as much as possible without interruption.
Kim and I have dinner with our kids every night, unless one of us is traveling on business, and spend time together over tea or a walk or a game or book. Some of our best moments have been jamming out and dancing in the house, which I think is a common Hudson Valley tradition!
All of this is important to me, because the genius of our communities is fostered by energy. These activities give me energy each day, and I try to bring that energy to others so we can help make things happen in the Greater Hudson Valley.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Hudson Valley?
We moved here to have more life together with simple, daily living. Much of our joy is being present here and enjoying meals with family and friends.
We have 70+ miles of trails right outside of our backdoor in Hurley. Besides spending a ton of time on the Rail Trail with family and friends, we love venturing to Bealleayre to ski, Spruceton and Tremper to hike and run, and south on 209 for mountain biking trails. When we stay hyper local, we walk in Comeau Park in Woodstock.
When there isn’t a Stockade game in the spring and summer, you will find us hanging at the Hurley Rec club, and at either soccer or swimming practice in Kingston with our children. On weekends, we purchase our food locally at the Kingston Farmers Market and pop into Outdated for a homemade scone.
Do you have a go-to coffee or beer order, and from where?
I haven’t had a beer or alcohol in a long time, but we make sure to take friends and family to Great Life Brewing in Kingston once in a while. I have never been a drinker, really. Being a Division I college athlete always put water in my hands.
A dream of mine — and some business partners — is to build a group of companies who advance our local food and beverage manufacturing and distribution lifecycle by making local food accessible to families within a 45 mile radius. We can even use the power of blockchain to help solve the gap in farming and tackle poverty. This is the way we want to be living.
Where do you do your best creative work?
When I am listening to others — whether it’s a conversation, reading a book, weekly podcast, family dinner. Engagement is where creativity sparks, and my curiosity leads to action.
I have to be more deliberate about creating and protecting time to engage with others, while having time to execute on deliverables. It is a constant battle. Based on the many profiles of leaders that I have read, they all highlight how the best “thinkers and doers” of our society have maintained a mix of engagement and solitude to perform at the highest levels.
How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?
We moved here from Westchester County, and having lived in major cities including Boston and D.C. areas, I still tell people that my brain synapses are being rewired living and being here. I have been most impacted by the mountains – they care for you in special ways, if I stay open to a willingness to grow.
I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, When I Am Among The Trees:
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
What’s surprised you most about living and working in the Hudson Valley?
How many people are working remotely, or from home. It shows the great opportunity we have to build an even stronger economy with the talent based here, but also highlights the gap in resident companies operating from the Hudson Valley.
Kim and I have been together for 20 years now, and I have been working with rapid-growth startups for over 10 years. As a couple, and I as a practitioner in the industry, have been envisioning and visualizing this for years. Now is the time to make it happen. The Hudson Valley is our story as a family, business owners and a community of startups and investors. There is a ton of good work to do.
Are you part of any local groups or communities you’d like to mention?
The Hudson Valley Venture Hub at SUNY New Paltz is leading the way in bringing together investors and entrepreneurs, with over 100 advisors and professionals all dedicated to finding and growing early-stage ideas and companies.
Anything you want to plug or promote?
Founders can apply to our Accel7 Spring 2020 Founder cohort starting in October 2019. Visit our website at accel7.org to apply. Also, watch out for our launch of the Accel7 Entrepreneur Bootcamp program in the Hudson Valley. We will be looking for at least 10 founders and business owners to help launch and grow new businesses.