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

Executive Director, University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence

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

Senior Program Director

Membership, Urban and Community Entrepreneurship Program, & 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

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 Consultantbriggs_website

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

Tara Gerek

Senior 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

Management Consultant

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

Clara Hidron

Management Consultant

Clara is a Management Consultant with the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center at the IEE, working with start-ups and existing businesses that require assistance with business and strategic planning, marketing and financial analysis. She also delivers consulting services and educational programs to Spanish speakers, further connecting to the Latino community in the Greater Pittsburgh Area.

Clara has over 14 years experience in helping organizations integrate sustainability to their business strategy, supporting strategic planning in social and environmental enterprises and creating and managing international cooperation initiatives for sustainable development. Previously, she worked as a Consultant for a Sustainability Consulting firm which she co-founded 7 years ago in Colombia. She is fluent in Spanish, English and French.


Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering, EIA University (Medellin, Colombia)
Master in Development Economics & International Project Management, University Paris-Est Creteil (Paris, France)

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 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 Assistant

As Administrative Assistant, Terri provides essential support to the Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence as well as providing administrative support services across all IEE departments. Terri holds over 20 years of experience in property management in the commercial, residential, and construction industry.

Joining the team in March of 2016, Terri brings over 11 years of administrative experience to the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Prior to working at the IEE, Terri began her career with the University of Pittsburgh at the School of Engineering Office of Diversity.


Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and Management, LaRoche College
Bachelor of Arts in English, LaRoche College
Professional Designation: Institute of Real Estate Management Certified Property Manager (CPPM)

Linwood Mitchell

Senior Management Consultant, Small Business Development Center

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

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

 Catherine Tyson

Senior Management Consultantcatherine-tyson

Since 1991, Catherine Tyson has functioned as an integral component to the success of the IEE. In addition to providing superior consulting services to thousands of clients at the University of Pittsburgh’s Small Business Development Center, she has also manifested the growth and perpetual success of innumerable regional Pittsburgh companies.

Tyson has utilized her consulting expertise to develop the Emerging Enterprise Program, a program generated around educating, managing and directing teams of student consultants. Over the years the program has grown to represent one of the IEE’s most valued company bedrocks; together, Tyson and her students provide consulting services to a variety of businesses from every industrial sector.


Bachelor of Science, California University of Pennsylvania

Michael Wholihan

Assistant Director, University of Pittsburgh SBDC

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