WARF Leader Delays Retirement as Search For Replacement Continues

The search for a new leader of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is taking longer than planned.

The nonprofit known as WARF manages patents and licensing for the research juggernaut that is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WARF is one of the oldest university technology transfer organizations in the U.S. and manages a $2.6 billion endowment.

The foundation announced in April that managing director Carl Gulbrandsen would retire in early 2016, after 16 years at the helm. At the time, WARF said a new leader would be in place this year.

But no replacement has been announced, and Gulbrandsen will postpone his retirement a few months and stay on through next June, WARF spokeswoman Jeanan Yasiri Moe said. She didn’t have any updates to share about the search process, which is being led by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates and a committee formed by WARF’s board of trustees.

“The search process continues and, as such, Carl agreed to stay on in his role to provide more time for that process to be completed,” Yasiri Moe said in an e-mail message. “WARF is a complicated organization with an important mission, and finding the right candidate takes time.”

Gulbrandsen joined WARF in 1997 and served as its director of patents and licensing before being named managing director in 2000. Prior to WARF, he was the general counsel for Lunar Corp., which was later purchased by GE Healthcare, according to Gulbrandsen’s LinkedIn profile.

Gulbrandsen has overseen an expansion in WARF funding and programs.

The foundation’s endowment has grown from about $1.4 billion in 2000 to more than $2.6 billion as of June 30. WARF gave $100 million last year to UW-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research, money that helps fund faculty and staff salaries, grants, student fellowships, equipment purchases, research partnerships, and more.

Under Gulbrandsen’s direction, WARF helped fund the creation of the private Morgridge Institute and public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, both housed in the Discovery Building on UW-Madison’s campus. The building was partly funded by WARF and opened in 2010.

Gulbrandsen also helped establish the WiCell Research Institute, which produces and stores stem cells, and the WiSys Technology Foundation, which oversees tech transfer at public Wisconsin colleges and universities, excluding UW-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In the past couple of years, WARF has put a sharper focus on encouraging entrepreneurship. It provided half the money for a $30 million, IT-focused venture fund, 4490 Ventures. WARF is a partner in UpStart, a program that helps women and people of color start businesses, and Discovery to Product (D2P), a UW-Madison initiative to help shepherd campus ideas to the point of licensing the technology or spinning out a company. WARF also runs its own accelerator program.

WARF said it has helped create more than 200 startups since the nonprofit’s inception.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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