Russian-born 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 Mail.ru, 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,” Penn president Amy Gutmann said 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 more than 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,” Wharton Dean Erika James said.
“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 graduated from Moscow State University in 1985 with a degree in theoretical physics in 1985 before attending Wharton in the 1990s. He went on to invest in Silicon Valley through Digital Sky Technologies, and then DST Global, a leading technology investment firm, with a portfolio that included early stakes in Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and other prominent internet companies. After first founding Digital Sky Technologies in Russia, he then opened DST Global in London in 2009, and the firm is now based in Hong Kong, according to Brownstein, an outside PR firm for Milner.
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. VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. and And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents.
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 disclosed 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 that Milner invested $850,000 in a real estate firm co-founded by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.