Russian-born Internet investor Yuri Milner donates $10 million to Wharton for Israeli students

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Russian billionaire Yuri Milner at the 5th Annual Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on Dec. 4, 2016 in Mountain View, Calif. - PictureGroup/Sipa USA/TNS

Russian businessman and Internet investor Yuri Milner is donating $10 million to the Wharton School to create scholarships for Israeli MBA students, the University of Pennsylvania said Tuesday.

Milner, who made his first Silicon Valley investments with money from a well-connected Russian oligarch, Alisher Usmanov, has become an internationally-known venture capitalist. He co-founded Internet company, which went public in 2010. In 2011 Wired magazine called Milner “the world’s most successful investor in social media.”

On Tuesday, Milner and his wife Julia made a $10 million commitment to create the Friends of Israel MBA Fund. This new fellowship will provide full-tuition financial support to Israeli MBA students at the Wharton School.

“Yuri’s philanthropy has been as visionary as his distinguished business career. He is one of the founders of the acclaimed Breakthrough Prize, which recognizes pioneering achievements in the sciences,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann in a press release.

The Friends of Israel MBA Fund will provide full tuition over the course of the two-year Wharton MBA program for over 60 students over the next decade. The fellowship is eligible to those who have completed Israeli military service, attended an Israeli undergraduate institution, or worked at an Israeli company.

“We are thrilled by the foundation’s commitment to supporting the best and brightest MBA candidates from the Israeli community,” said Wharton Dean Erika James.

“My hope is that this scholarship will support talented individuals to look beyond the horizon and pursue their vision of what the world can be, and that the state of Israel will benefit from the expertise in business and entrepreneurship that Wharton program graduates will bring back home,” Milner said in the release.

Born in Russia, Milner is an Israeli citizen living in the Bay Area in California. Now 58, he studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University before attending Wharton in the 1990s. He went on to found DST Global, Russia’s leading technology investment firm, with a portfolio that included early stakes in Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and other prominent internet companies.

Those early investments in Facebook and Twitter were fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars from a Kremlin-backed bank and the investment firm of a major Russian natural gas company, the New York Times reported in 2017.

Milner was also a keynote speaker at the Wharton MBA Graduation Ceremony in 2017.

In July 2015, together with physicist Stephen Hawking, Milner launched the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and in April 2016 launched Breakthrough Starshot — a $100 million research and engineering program to develop space travel. All these initiatives were funded by the Breakthrough Foundation established by Yuri and Julia Milner.

In 2017, the Paradise Papers revealed that the Russian tycoon poured millions of dollars into social media websites Facebook and Twitter, helped by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank. The documents also showed Milner invested $850,000 in a real estate firm co-founded by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Milner graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in theoretical physics in 1985.


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