SSTI Board


The Honorable Tom Ridge
Following the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, Tom Ridge became the first Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and, on January 24, 2003, became the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, serving until February 2005. The creation of the country's 15th Cabinet Department marked the largest reorganization of government since the Truman administration and another call to service for the former soldier, congressman and governor of Pennsylvania. During his DHS tenure, Secretary Ridge worked with more than 180,000-plus employees from a combined 22 agencies to create an agency that facilitated the flow of people and goods, instituted layered security at air, land and seaports, developed a unified national response and recovery plan, protected critical infrastructure, integrated new technology and improved information sharing worldwide. Mr. Ridge previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives for six terms from 1983 to 1995, and was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania, serving as the state's 43rd governor from 1995 to 2001. Governor Ridge's aggressive technology strategy helped fuel the state's advances in economic development, education, health care and the environment. Secretary Ridge is currently president and CEO of Ridge Global, an international security and risk management advisory firm, headquartered in Washington, DC. In March 2013, Secretary Ridge co-founded with former White House cyber czar Howard Schmidt the strategic advisory firm, Ridge Schmidt Cyber, an executive services firm that helps leaders in business and government navigate the increasing demands of cybersecurity. An engaging and dynamic speaker, Secretary Ridge regularly addresses audiences on a range of issues, including international business, security and leadership. Additionally, he serves on the boards of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and other private and public entities. He is currently chairman of SSTI's Board of Trustees, the National Organization on Disability and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Security Task Force, and along with Gen. Tommy Franks (Ret.) serves as national co-chairman of the Flight 93 National Memorial Fundraising Campaign. Secretary Ridge earned a scholarship to Harvard, graduating with honors in 1967. After his first year at Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star for Valor, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After returning to Pennsylvania and to Dickinson, he earned his law degree.


Robert Atkinson is the founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC-based technology policy think tank. He is also author of the "State New Economy Index" series and the book, "The Past and Future of America's Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Power Cycles of Growth". He has an extensive background in technology policy, he has conducted ground-breaking research projects on technology and innovation, is a valued adviser to state and national policy makers, and a popular speaker on innovation policy nationally and internationally. Before coming to ITIF, Dr. Atkinson was vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute and director of PPIís Technology & New Economy Project, where he wrote numerous research reports on technology and innovation policy. Previously Dr. Atkinson served as the first executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council, a public-private partnership including as members the governor, legislative leaders, and corporate and labor leaders. Prior to that he was project director at the former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

John Hardin is the Executive Director for the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology & Innovation, which is staffed by Office of Science, Technology & Innovation in the North Carolina Department of Commerce. He was appointed Acting Director in spring 2008 and Executive Director in fall 2009. From 2003 to 2008, he served as the Board's Deputy Director and Chief Policy Analyst. From 1998 to 2003, he served as Assistant Vice President for Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of North Carolina (UNC) system office. From 1998 to 2005, he held an Adjunct Assistant Professor position in the Department of Political Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he taught courses on American government, political institutions, and state and local politics. Since 2005, he has held a visiting lecturer position in the Department of Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he teaches courses on American politics, public policy, science policy, and policy analysis. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hardin holds the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from UNC-Chapel Hill, a B.A. in economics from Baylor University, and a certificate of completion for the Leadership Decision Making program, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Ben Johnson is Senior Vice President, Programs, at BioSTL, where he leads its initiatives related to public policy, diversity/inclusion/equity, talent and workforce development, and fundraising.  Since 2001, BioSTL has transformed St. Louis' innovation economy through comprehensive programming that leverages the region’s medical and plant science strengths.  In this work, Ben helped co-create the St. Louis Equity in Entrepreneurship Collective and STEMSTL to advance systems-level interventions that bring equitable outcomes to St. Louis’ entrepreneurship and STEM ecosystems and is building the Missouri Innovation Policy Network to advance pro-entrepreneurship polices across Missouri. Ben currently serves as Chairman of SSTI’s national policy arm, the Innovation Advocacy Council (IAC), which informs and educates policymakers and elected officials to modernize federal innovation and entrepreneurship policy. Prior to BioSTL, Ben moved to St. Louis to complete the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and led creation of a Community Development Financial Institution in Indiana. Ben received his M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his B.A. from Northwestern University, majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Business German.

Marnie LaVigne has spent more than 25 years in both the private and public sectors creating new products and start-up businesses, driving innovation and economic growth especially in technology-based industries. In 2014 she became the President and CEO of Launch NY, a venture development organization that she co-founded with other regional partners. Previously, she moved from her co-founder roles in two health informatics start-up companies with initial public offerings into the nonprofit arena, which included leading economic and business development efforts for nearly 10 years as the University at Buffalo as Associate Vice President for Economic Development and Director of Business Development for the NYS Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. Dr. LaVigne created numerous programs supporting technology-based economic development among startups and established companies, yielding as much as 60:1 return in economic impact. She serves on numerous boards for private, public, profit, and non-profit organizations and journals. Dr. LaVigne has a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and a doctorate in clinical psychology, both from the University of Rochester.

Rich Lunak has distinguished himself as a successful serial entrepreneur, corporate executive and investor. He served as President and CEO of Innovation Works, one of the nation’s most active early stage technology investors, where he leveraged his experience as a successful serial entrepreneur to provide strategic business advice to high-growth technology companies in Pittsburgh. Prior to joining Innovation Works in 2005, Mr. Lunak was a successful technology entrepreneur/inventor who helped lead a healthcare robotics company from a three-person startup to a $65 million acquisition by McKesson Corporation, the nation’s 16th largest company. As Group President, McKesson Automation, he led five autonomous business units that served more than 13,000 customers, generated hundreds of millions in revenues and managed more than 1,800 employees with operations in four states. He was responsible for all aspects of the businesses including acquisitions, sales, marketing, R&D, manufacturing and service. A technologist as well as an entrepreneur, Mr. Lunak is a guest lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, a member of numerous boards of directors, and holds several U.S. patents. He is a winner of the 2012 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the 2008 Carnegie Science Center entrepreneur’s award. Mr. Lunak received a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

Bruce Mehlman is a technology industry leader in Washington DC, helping high tech players understand, anticipate and navigate the public policy environment and trends likely to impact the global marketplace through his firm, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. His largest client is the Technology CEO Council, where as Executive Director he works with the CEOs of Applied Materials, Dell, EMC, IBM, Intel, HP, Motorola, NCR and Unisys to promote innovation leadership and tech-led economic growth. Mr. Mehlman previously served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy. At Commerce, Mr. Mehlman worked closely with leaders from industry, federal labs, universities and governments on issues impacting technology creators and users including innovation policy, broadband, biotechnology, tech-led economic growth, technology transfer, nanotechnology, and workforce policy. Mehlman worked as telecommunications policy counsel for Cisco Systems, policy director at the House Republican Conference, general counsel of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and as a commercial litigation attorney in a major Washington law firm. He serves on the Board of One Economy Corporation, and the Advisory Boards of the NanoBusiness Alliance and the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

Sandra Watson brings more than 20 years of economic development leadership experience to Arizona. She and her teams have successfully attracted to Arizona hundreds of companies that have invested billions of dollars in capital and created more than 75,000 quality jobs. During her tenure with the Arizona Department of Commerce, and now the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), Ms. Watson served in positions with increasing responsibilities and results. She has led Business Attraction, Business Development, Innovation & Technology, Workforce and Marketing. She also served as Executive Director of the Governor’s Council of Innovation & Technology. Ms. Watson worked tirelessly to implement the new vision for the ACA and its aggressive 5-year business plan promoting the state’s pro-business, competitive value proposition. She provided invaluable leadership during the organization’s transition from the Department of Commerce into one of the nation’s first state-based public-private partnerships focused on economic development. Under her direction, the ACA leads statewide efforts assisting companies to locate, expand and grow – bringing high-wage jobs and capital investment to Arizona. Ms. Watson holds an Honors Bachelor of Commerce degree, and completed the Global Leadership Certification program at the Thunderbird School of Management.

Chairman Emeritus

John Engler, former governor of Michigan