SWIB, WARF team up on $30 million venture capital fund

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation unveiled plans to create a $30 million venture capital fund that will focus primarily on IT start-ups based in Wisconsin.

The private fund, which will be backed equally by WARF and SWIB, will be launched this fall, officials said Tuesday. It will be called 4490 Ventures, a nod to the 44-degree north latitude and 90-degree west longitude lines near the center of the Badger State.

Michael Williamson, SWIB’s executive director, made the announcement at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon. His board controls $90 billion in state and local government pension funds.

“We look forward to partnering with WARF,” Williamson said. “Our research shows this is an excellent environment to invest in. But there’s just not a lot of venture capital funds available in Wisconsin.

“And make no mistake, we are doing this because we think we can generate returns for our investors,” he said. “And the second reason is that it allows us to diversify our investments.”

Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF’s managing director, said the fund was incorporated on Monday and recruiting has already begun for a general partner to manage the fund, which will be separate from SWIB and WARF.

He said it will be located in Madison, but investments will be made around the entire state.

Both men said they do not believe 4490 Ventures takes away the need for the Legislature to back a proposal for another, $25 million venture capital fund that was proposed previously.

“We think this complements the efforts of the state and we totally support that,” Williamson said. “But we have a totally different parameter. We are looking at total return while the state is looking at economic development and jobs. That’s a different arena, but we think there is plenty of opportunity for everyone.”

Gulbrandsen said he hoped this fund would garner attention from investors outside of the state and attract more investment.