With a variety of specialized skills, background experiences and expertise, The IEE team is deeply committed to our mission of promoting economic growth in the Western Pennsylvania region as well as helping business leaders prosper.

Senior Team

Robert (Bob) Stein

Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Executive Director, IEE

Robert Stein brings to his role as Executive Director more than 15 years of entrepreneurism, nationally recognized technology expertise, and visionary leadership. A senior advisor with the IEE since 2005, Stein created a specialized information technology consultancy within the IEE and led the department in helping dozens of member companies achieve multi-million dollar growth. In addition to leading the IEE, Bob remains one of the country’s most sought after tech-industry consultants and continues to leverage his contacts and experience to the benefit of IEE members.

Bob’s deft business development and entrepreneurism can be traced to childhood, where he witnessed the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurism at his family-owned coal processing business. As a pre-teen, Bob was introduced to the World Wide Web, and immersed himself into the high-tech world, working with America Online and Microsoft as early as age 13. At 16, Stein founded Active Network, Inc. (, a Microsoft focused “go to” web portal for high-tech news and information that received tens of millions of impressions since inception. Moreover, through a variety of positions at his family’s business, Bob was able to garner significant exposure to international business via extensive travels to India, Turkey, Romania, and more.

In addition to his visionary entrepreneurism, Bob’s extensive experience in project management and implementing cost-effective integrated information systems has earned him the respect from long-standing tech leaders such as Steve Ballmer and Meg Whitman. For 13 consecutive years, Stein has earned the title of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional. He has been featured in many national publications, including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NY Times, Washington Post, and American Business Journal. Pittsburgh Technology Council also named Bob as a finalist for the 2014 CIO of the year award.

Stein holds a Bachelor of Science in Operations and Information Systems Management from the Smeal College of Business from the Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. He also holds a certificate in Executive Leadership from the Harvard Business School.


Bachelor of Science in Operations and Information Systems Management, Pennsylvania State University
Master of Business Administration, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh
Certificate in Innovation in Economic Development, Harvard Kennedy School

Rhonda Carson Leach

Rhonda Carson LeachSenior Program Director: Membership, Urban & Community Entrepreneurship Program, and Entrepreneurial Fellows Class

As Senior Program Director of the Membership department, Urban & Community Entrepreneur Program, and the Entrepreneurial Fellows Class, Rhonda Carson Leach is responsible for developing and implementing entrepreneurial programs focused on providing business leaders with the direction, knowledge and connections to take their businesses to the next level. She is also lead facilitator for the IEE’s Urban Power to Prosper, a nine-month certificate program for small business owners in urban neighborhoods that explores such topics as access to capital, financial management, strategic planning, sales strategies, access to new markets, and managing human resources.

Rhonda Carson Leach has over 16 years of experience motivating small business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, nonprofit leaders, groups and individuals in a career or life transition to use their innate abilities to master their goals and achieve success. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, conflict resolution and group dynamics. She is also an executive life coach, management consultant, corporate trainer and motivational speaker in the Pittsburgh area.

Rhonda Carson Leach was honored as one of 50 Women of Excellence by the New Pittsburgh Courier in 2009 and as a Minority Small Business Champion by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2005. A member of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, she has served on the boards of the American Society for Training and Development, YWCA of Pittsburgh, Children/Adults Recreational Services, Urban Youth Action, Inc., and the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, Inc. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.


Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Western New England College
Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, Geneva College
Master of Science in Public Policy and Management, University of Pittsburgh

Jessica Sinclair

Director, PantherlabWorkssinclair_website

Jessica Sinclair is the Director of PantherlabWorks, a program to prepare both early stage and established companies to innovate and commercialize. Jessica has over 10 years of experience in concurrent roles as a program manager, research and development manager, and proposal writer and coordinator. Jessica comes to the IEE from a small Pittsburgh-based biotechnology company which originally spun out of the University of Pittsburgh, where she led diverse teams in creating innovative products. Her collaborative efforts resulted in research and development funding awards totaling over $40 MM as well as product contracts in excess of $50 MM. Jessica’s strengths lie in strategic planning for technology development through team building and management, communication of complex technical concepts for broad understanding, and in new product development from early-stage proof-of-concept through fielded products. Jessica also has significant experience with all facets of small business technology development, including proposal and funding capture, government relationship management, and commercial transition of SBIR-funded products.


Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Gannon University
Master of Science in Organic Chemistry, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Raymond L. Vargo

Director, Small Business Development CenterRay Vargo

Raymond L. Vargo, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center at the IEE, counsels businesses at all stages of their lifecycle.

Working with businesses in industries such as retail, high tech, manufacturing and professional services, he provides strategic business and financial advice to help companies expand their profits, explore new markets and overcome business challenges.

Since opening the Washington County Outreach Office of the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center in 1995, Vargo has grown it to become one of the most successful outreach offices in the Pennsylvania SBDC system.

He has become a leader and valuable resource for Western Pennsylvania businesses, and in addition to his consulting management responsibilities, Vargo teaches accounting and small business management to both undergraduate and graduate students at Waynesburg College and the University of Pittsburgh.


Bachelor of Science in Accounting, Pennsylvania State University
Master of Business Administration, California University of Pennsylvania


Lee Ann Briggs

Environmental ConsultantLee Ann Briggs

Lee Ann is an Environmental Consultant with the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (Environmental Management Assistance Program (EMAP)), assisting businesses with environmental and health and safety compliance, pollution prevention and sustainability opportunities for new business start-up, overall operation and/or potential expansion.

Lee Ann has over 28 years of environmental regulatory compliance experience in both consulting and industrial capacities. In addition to her experience working as an environmental consultant with the SBDC EMAP program from 2000–2011, she was previously the Manager of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for a paint and coatings manufacturer, providing full environmental, product safety and employee safety compliance.

Prior to this she was an Environmental Scientist/Project Manager with two different Environmental/Engineering Consulting firms.


Bachelor of Science in Environmental Resource Management, Pennsylvania State University
Registered Environmental Manager (REM) with the National Registry of Environmental Professionals

Kim Garrett

Technical Management ConsultantKim Garrett

Kim joined the IEE as a Technical Management Consultant for PantherlabWorks in February 2019. In this role, Kim primarily works with entrepreneurs on product development and commercialization initiatives. She also assists clients with business planning, brand strategy and fundraising preparation.

Prior to joining the IEE, Kim founded the natural skincare company, Rooted Beauty, which was acquired by a natural personal care industry leader, Seventh Generation. After the acquisition, Kim joined the Seventh Generation team as a Brand Manager, continuing to manage Rooted Beauty until it was acquired by Unilever. Through Rooted Beauty’s giveback program, over one hundred women received vocational training and have been able to escape extreme poverty.

Kim continues to equip women to overcome extreme poverty through her involvement on the Harvest Bridge board and Giving Grounds Coffee. In her spare time, Kim enjoys spending time with her family, playing basketball, tennis, biking, and being active.


Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship, Grove City College

Tara Gerek

Tara GerekSenior Events Manager & Membership Coordinator

Tara Gerek, Senior Events Manager & Membership Coordinator, joined the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 2012. In her position she is responsible for all of the details and various aspects of event/program logistics for the various centers of the IEE. These details include the planning and execution of educational and social networking events for the Membership Program, and the Entrepreneurial Fellows Center. Specifically, Tara handles items related to venue development, registration, final reconciliation of the event/program and serves as a liaison to existing members and clients of the various IEE centers.

Prior to joining the IEE, she worked for five years at Concord Hospitality Enterprises, coordinating special events in Marriott brand hotels in the Greater Pittsburgh region.

Tara is a member of the Meeting Professionals International – Pittsburgh Chapter and in her spare time serves as a volunteer for the United Way.


Bachelor of Arts in Business Management, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Victoria Hassett

Manager of the Emerging Enterprise Program

Victoria first joined the Small Business Development Center as an intern in Washington. As a Washington County native, she was thrilled to rejoin the team as a consultant in January 2015 managing the Washington and Waynesburg offices. She works closely with both start-ups and existing businesses to help them reach their goals. The majority of her work is focused on assisting clients with strategic planning, cash flow statements, and loan packaging. In addition, she does most of the educational programming within Washington and Greene County. She loves being active with entrepreneurs within her own community.

Prior to her return, Victoria worked as both a Financial Aid Advisor and Career Services Advisor at Penn Commercial Business/Technical School in Washington.

In her spare time, Victoria sits on several boards and committees focused on civic involvement, ball room dancing, and education.


Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science, Grove City College

Meghan Hillegas

Management Consultant

Meghan Hillegas is a Management Consultant with the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center.  At the SBDC Meghan works closely with clients in all stages of business growth. With nearly a decade of experience in small business and nonprofit operations and financial analysis, Meghan focuses her consulting work in organizational management and financial forecasting.


Bachelor of Science in Sport Management, California University of Pennsylvania
Master of Business Administration, Waynesburg

Nicole Hudson

Senior Program Manager: Urban and Community Entrepreneurship Program and Entrepreneurial Fellows Class

As Senior Program Manager, Nicole Hudson is responsible for the recruitment and management of all entrepreneurial activities under the Entrepreneurial Fellows Class and Urban and Community Entrepreneurship Program. She will work closely with the Director to coordinate the administrative function of both centers, and is responsible for planning and maintenance of organizational needs and client and community relationships. Nicole will assist the Director in cultivating and closing leads to ensure quality program execution. Nicole comes to the IEE from within the University of Pittsburgh, Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration, central administration office.  She is a strong supporter of Pitt and is actively involved in the University’s Staff Association Council, and volunteers her time to University wide events and initiatives.


Bachelor of Science in Management, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Terri Kennelly-Cook

Administrative AssistantTerri Kennelly-Cook

Terri Kennelly-Cook began her career at the University of Pittsburgh in August 2006 as the Department Administrator in the Swanson School of Engineering Office of Diversity. Ten years later she transferred to the IEE as an administrative assistant handling the front desk duties and projects for the IEE with Pitt students. Prior to the University of Pittsburgh, Terri was a Certified Property Manager (CPM) and Regional Supervisor with Zink Partners, Inc., Johnstown Management Co. and Cushman & Wakefield working in various states in commercial and residential properties.


Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Management, LaRoche College
Bachelor of Arts in English, LaRoche College
Certificate of Organizational Leadership and Ethics (COLE), University of Pittsburgh
Administrative Professional Certificate, University of Pittsburgh

Linwood Mitchell

Senior Management Consultant

Linwood Mitchell is a Senior Management Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center. In this role, Linwood works with new and established entrepreneurs throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania to help their businesses start, grow, and prosper. Linwood brings to the Center over 15 years of financial services and Business Banking experience where he has specialized in helping businesses gain access to capital and manage their cash flow.

Linwood is active in the greater Pittsburgh community where he was recognized by the New Pittsburgh Courier as a 50 Men of Excellence recipient in 2012. He was a participant in Leadership Pittsburgh’s LDI program and has sat on multiple local boards. With a passion for leadership and learning, he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Leadership.


Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, University of Pittsburgh
Master of Business Administration, University of Pittsburgh, Joseph M. Katz School of Business

Zachery PattonZachery Patton, SBDC Management Consultant

Management Consultant

Zachery Patton is a Management Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh’s Small Business Development Center. Currently, he works with startups and small businesses out of the Washington and Waynesburg offices. Zachery brings experience in the restaurant industry, business development, as well as sustainability initiatives. His focus is to help entrepreneurs position themselves to succeed and prosper.

Before he joined the Small Business Development Center, Zachery was the Technology Transfer Coordinator at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.


Bachelor of Science in Marketing, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
Masters of Business Administration, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Lauren A. Scholtz

Department Administrator

Lauren Scholtz joined the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 2007. She is responsible for monitoring and analyzing financial reports, processing accounts payable and receivable documents, and rendering her professional recommendation for cost effective and efficient financial policies.

In addition, she collaborates with the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Research, Research Cost Accounting and Institutional Advancement departments to prepare essential grant and program reports for proper correspondences with donors, pledges and other stakeholders.


Bachelor of Science in Accounting, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Master of Business Administration, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh

Brett Smith

Marketing DirectorBrett Smith, Marketing Director

As Marketing Director, Brett sets the strategic direction and tactical approaches for the IEE’s marketing efforts. He works across the organization to promote the IEE’s offerings, to build recognition for the Institute and its centers, and to support membership and events. Brett also supports the IEE’s clients through marketing and communications consulting and contributes to the IEE’s educational offerings. He brings a varied and developed background to the role with experience in higher education, consulting, nonprofit, technology, and financial services.

Prior to joining the IEE, Brett served Chatham University for nearly seven years as Web Marketing Manager and was an adjunct instructor for graduate-level communications programs.


Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Pennsylvania State University
Master of Science in Advertising, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Michael Wholihan

michaelAssistant Director, Small Business Development Center

Michael joined the IEE to infuse his passion for entrepreneurship and education in support of the University’s mission for regional economic development. Michael’s committed to broadening our region to assist business owners with profitability and sustainability. As an advocate for small business growth, Michael brings value through the delivery of training and counseling.

He will work with the IEE team to achieve its’ goals in fostering innovative ideas to strengthen and expand the University’s strategic outreach. Michael has expertise in entrepreneurship, financing, grant writing and higher education management.

Michael worked previously with the IEE as their Educational Program Manager from 2004 – 2008. For five years he served as a co-owner of a family business in the financial services industry. Michael has previously presented at the ASBDC annual conference. His published research dissertation focused on: Educating Entrepreneurs, Strategic Methods Utilized by Small Business Development Centers in the U.S. to Deliver Educational Programs.

Michael has spoken as a panel member at the U. S. Capitol Building for a Senate sub-committee on SBA financing. He presented a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) client whose commercialized LED lighting sensors were being used in hospitals in the U.S. and internationally as effective cost savings solutions. He guided a start-up venture to receive an investment to launch a company that provides clinical laboratory and toxicology testing for physician-owned practices.


Bachelor of Education, University of Toledo
Masters of Education, University of Pittsburgh
Doctorate of Education, University of Pittsburgh


Christina Wilcox

Christina WilcoxManagement Consultant

Christina joined the IEE as a Management Consultant for the Small Business Development Center in January, 2019. At the SBDC, Christina works closely with clients in various stages of their business growth. While working primarily out of the Oakland office of the IEE, Christina also manages the client base at the Riverside Center for Innovation, maintaining strong business relationships and partnerships with the representatives of the Diversity Business Resource Center.

Prior to joining the IEE, Christina was a supervisor for Guardian Protection Services, within the Service Department of Operations. Christina led a team of 5 representatives, specializing in sub-contracting dispatch. She held various positions throughout her 12 years there, and was a member of the New Home Builder Program, Residential Installation, Service Dispatch and Sub-Contracting Dispatch. Prior to Guardian, Christina also spent the early part of her career working for National City Corporation as a Loan Processor.

In her spare time, Christina enjoys spending time with her family, attending sporting events, traveling as much as possible, and getting to the beach at least once a year.


Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania