The Venture Center of Little Rock announced Tuesday that CEO Lee Watson would move into a newly created position, "chief innovator," and that a former Acxiom Corp. leader, Bill Yoder, would be interim CEO.
Watson has been with the nonprofit since its inception in 2013, helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses though networking and mentorship programs. Its board of directors includes co-founder James Hendren, who praised Watson's work in a news release.
"Lee has done a great job of leading The Venture Center from just an idea four years ago, to a major center for entrepreneurialism in Arkansas," Hendren said. "He has also been instrumental in developing a global, highly-successful FinTech innovation program that has been a meaningful contributor to financial technology innovations."
The center characterized the move as "the next step in the Venture Center's growth plans as the organization continues its mission 'to be one of Arkansas's premier entrepreneurial resource centers.'" Hendren said Yoder's work will allow the board to conduct a search for a new CEO.
"The last five years have been an amazing journey developing best-practice models for entrepreneur support programming and partnering with Arkansas’s business and government leaders," Watson said in a news release. "I'm excited to move into the role of Chief Innovator to focus on what I do best — building innovation programs — and to work with Bill Yoder and the Venture Center team to provide the infrastructure, resources and access to capital entrepreneurs need to thrive."
Yoder is chairman of the board at Watch House International of Ozark, Missouri, a security company he co-founded 10 years ago that has more than 300 employees. An Arkansas native, Yoder's earlier career includes leadership roles at Acxiom Corp. of Conway and Alltel Information Services.
"Bill's willingness to step in and lead our Venture Center team gives our Board the opportunity to conduct a search for a new CEO as we continue to leverage the international FinTech Accelerator happening now in cooperation with FIS and the state of Arkansas, maintaining the momentum of our ongoing programming and working with Lee on exciting new initiatives," Hendren said.
Alltel Information Services of Little Rock was a company acquired in 1990 by FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, a Fortune 500 global banking and payments technology company. In 2016, FIS partnered with The Venture Center to launch a financial technology accelerator program. The third iteration of the FinTech program is taking place this summer at The Venture Center.