Lee Watson

Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Forge Institute

Lee is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Forge Institute, an organization developed to design and enable innovative private-public collaborations to support economic and national security initiatives.

Forge Institute was established in 2018, to reduce cyber risks through programs in innovation and workforce development and by supporting intel-led cyber operations.

In 2019, Lee led an effort to pass the Arkansas Cyber Initiative or ACI (ACT 1085 of 2019). ACI was created to develop cybersecurity capabilities and partnerships across the State of Arkansas. ACT 1085 was passed unanimously and signed into law by Arkansas Governor Hutchinson on May 10, 2019.

Prior to founding Forge Institute, Lee was the Founding CEO & Board Member of The Venture Center, an entrepreneur-led organization that established successful innovation programming for startups and companies in Central Arkansas. The Venture Center has been recognized as a global "best practice model" by Startup Federation and the International Business Incubator Association (InBIA) and was successful in helping startups raise tens of millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs. A key program, the VC FinTech Accelerator (in partnership with FIS), has become the most recognized global FinTech startup innovation program; being recognized by industry publications, global media, Congressional statements on the House Floor, and by dozens of leading angel investors and venture capitalists. The FinTech program receives hundreds of applications each year and has an investment portfolio of over four dozen companies. After graduating from college, Lee built Clarovista, a regional mobile application development, marketing, and data analytics consulting company.

Lee has worked to support state legislation in Arkansas to accelerate STEM education, drive innovation, and create high-paying jobs for Arkansans. Lee is interested in cyber, financial technology, quantum computing/physics, and building a strong innovation-driven economy.

Key Accomplishments

  • Serial entrepreneur, board member, innovator, investor, and technologist
  • Built global Financial Technology innovation program with FIS (Fortune 500)
  • Member, Governor Hutchinson’s Coding and Cybersecurity Task Force & Arkansas Cybersecurity Advisory Council (ACAC)
  • Founding Champion: Startup Arkansas &  Startup Champions Network
  • Eagle Scout & Order of the Arrow