Former Gates Foundation Lawyer Tapped As WARF’s New Managing Director

Erik Iverson, an attorney whose career stops include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been named the next managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which manages patents and licensing of intellectual property for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Iverson, 47, currently serves as president of business and operations for the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) in Seattle. He’ll relocate to Madison to succeed Carl Gulbrandsen, who has held the top job at WARF since 2000 after joining the foundation in 1997 as director of patents and licensing. Gulbrandsen is retiring on June 30, and Iverson is slated to take the reins on July 1.

Iverson says his work at IDRI will continue through the first week of June. He says he’ll then move to Madison and “begin a role at WARF” in mid-June. One reason for doing this is so that he and Gulbrandsen can be in close proximity for a couple of weeks as they finalize the leadership transition, Iverson says in an interview. In the meantime, he says he’ll be meeting with leaders at WARF and UW-Madison, including Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“I hope to have regular exploratory and learning conversations with the chancellor and other people at the university, and certainly with Carl and some of the WARF staff,” Iverson says. “And then I hope to reach out more broadly to educate myself about WARF, the university, and the state of Wisconsin—everything from the financing needs to the business ecosystem.”

Iverson stresses, however, that his “primary responsibility until June will be [as] president of IDRI.”

Although Iverson has not previously worked in a university technology transfer office, he says he became familiar with WARF during his time at the Gates Foundation. “We spent a lot of time on grant-making, building collaborative structures, and exploring technologies,” he says.

In 2004, the Gates Foundation hired Iverson as associate general counsel—the organization’s second attorney on staff—a position he held for more than seven years. He worked exclusively within the foundation’s Global Health Program, which contributes $4 billion in yearly funding “for the discovery and development of vaccines, drugs, diagnostics,” and other technologies, according to a press release.

Iverson joined IDRI in 2011 as a vice president; two years later, he was promoted to his current role. The nonprofit helps lead a variety of global health-related research and development projects. It is probably best known as a developer of vaccine adjuvants, substances added to vaccines that increase the body’s immune response to them.

Iverson says that at IDRI, he spends the majority of his time “diversifying funding sources,” which include scientific grants and collaborative relationships with businesses. He says that technically, it’d be correct to call this work fundraising; however, what he does isn’t what most people envision when they hear that term.

“My time is not spent out glad-handing for donations, [but rather] structuring financing mechanisms,” Iverson says. “We’ve spun out companies and raised finances around those companies. We work with the Gates Foundation and other funding institutions to structure their grants so that they are productive for the funder, but also useful to the organization and its operations.”

Iverson says it’s too early to tell whether he’ll spend as much time on these activities once he starts at WARF.

Even though his focus in recent years has been on global health initiatives, Iverson says that he’s been exposed to a wide range of technologies throughout his career.

“I don’t want people to have the impression that [global health is] my sole focus and that’s what I’m going to spend my time driving” at WARF, he says. “At the Gates Foundation, I was involved in everything from agriculture to information technology to mobile-based technologies. My hope is to understand the technologies coming out of the university and determine how they can best be translated into a commercial product that benefits the user, and the state of Wisconsin.”

In December, Xconomy was first to report that Gulbrandsen would delay his retirement several months because WARF’s search for a new leader was taking longer than planned. UW-Madison announced last April that Gulbrandsen would be stepping down.

The foundation’s endowment has grown to $2.6 billion (as of June 30) from about $1.4 billion in 2000. In 2014, WARF gave $100 million to UW-Madison—the state’s largest academic research university—and the Morgridge Institute for Research, money that helps fund faculty and staff salaries, grants, research partnerships, student fellowships, equipment purchases, and more.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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