Penn State hosts international scholar of entrepreneurship

November 04, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For five weeks this fall, Penn State will host a special visitor through a U.S. Department of State exchange: Margarita Zobnina, a leading scholar on entrepreneurship and business development from Moscow.

Penn State welcomes Zobnina through the Department of State’s Professional Fellows Program, which connects U.S. organizations with world-class leaders for short-term exchange and collaboration. Fellows undergo a highly competitive application process, and are selected based on leadership in innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Penn State was identified as a host location by the State Department for our dedication to entrepreneurial development,” said James Delattre, Penn State’s assistant vice president for research and director of entrepreneurship and commercialization. “Knowing Margarita’s unique expertise in this space, they saw Penn State as a natural fit.”

After earning her Ph.D. in Economics from Moscow State University, Zobnina founded two successful consulting firms and went on to teach marketing innovations and entrepreneurship at a top Russian university, the Higher School of Economics.

Today, she is the director for ecosystem projects at Internet Initiatives Development Fund (IIDF), Russia’s largest venture capital firm by volume of deals. In that role, she identifies opportunities to support and increase the field of Russian startups.

“We have developed a system that assists ventures across our country, not just in Moscow,” said Zobnina. “We look for ways to increase the pipeline of new start-ups, as well as improve their survival rate.”

Zobnina’s work at IIDF was integral to the development of an accelerator program for early-stage companies, and a published guidebook for startups in Russian. A blended entrepreneurship curriculum that she created is now used in 109 Russian universities.

The Professional Fellows Program not only offers fellows the chance to further their own work, but also gives U.S. organizations access to global experts to share best practices and new ideas. 

“Margarita has incredible experience working in the burgeoning entrepreneurial community in Russia,” notes Delattre, “We can benefit from learning more about her unique approach.”

During her visit, Zobnina will be based out of Happy Valley LaunchBox, Penn State’s startup accelerator in State College. LaunchBox is one of many programs that fall within Invent Penn State, President Eric Barron’s $30 million entrepreneurship initiative launched in 2015.

"The entrepreneurial ecosystem at Penn State is very well-developed,” Zobnina confirms. “Supports are in place at every level — for faculty, students, startups and the community."

One of Zobnina’s projects during the stay includes assisting Invent Penn State with the creation of an ecosystem map to clearly illustrate the framework available to innovators across the University.

“Having a world-class scholar embedded in our system helps us to continue to strengthen our offerings in support of entrepreneurial activity,” Delattre adds.

Zobnina says she is also looking forward to furthering her own work while at a leading U.S. university. She is currently developing a course for Russian faculty and graduate students on commercialization strategies for their work.

“Penn State has a wide variety of entrepreneurial courses — that incorporate technology, engineering and other industries,” she says. “I’m hoping to tap into the knowledge at Penn State to strengthen and expand our curriculum in new ways.”

For Zobnina, the experience has already been rewarding, both professionally and personally. She’s visited with many professors, classes and programs, and even attended her very first tailgate and football game. “Everyone has made me feel welcome,” she said. “After only one week, I already feel as though I am part of Penn State.”

For questions, contact Nena Ellis-Koschny at

  • Margarita Zobnina

    Margarita Zobnina

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 12, 2016