AURP Presents Annual Awards of Excellence at 2020 International Conference Held Virtually

Tucson, AZ, November 9, 2020 – The Association of University Research Parks (AURP), a global non-profit membership organization serving the institutional research park and innovation district community, presented its 2020 Awards of Excellence honorees at AURP's 2020 International Conference held virtually, November 2-6.

Outstanding Research Park / Innovation District:
University of Utah Research Park

The University of Utah Research Park was named AURP's Research Park of the Year for 2020. The Research Park of the Year Award recognizes research parks that have created an exceptional ecosystem, supporting technology development from inception to market and impacting the growth of scalable businesses and local economic health. Congratulations to the University of Utah Research Park, serving as host for the 2020 AURP International Conference, October 18 to 21, 2020.  

Innovation Award – Earthsense, Inc. based out of the University of Illinois Research Park

EarthSense’s first robot—TerraSentia—is helping accelerate crop improvement and agricultural product development by providing large quantities of accurate in-field plant trait data rapidly and at low cost, especially for under-canopy traits that cannot be obtained by other technologies. Responding to the COVID-19 crisis, EarthSense has accelerated the creation of products for Healthcare. EarthSense is a startup company that has been featured in the NY Times, participated in three national accelerator programs, received venture capital funding, and has been a central part of the growing AgTech cluster in the University of Illinois Research Park. Its co-founder, Girish Chowdhary, has been helping to redefine what’s possible in agriculture with added AI and automation.

Rising Star Award:
Merry Hunter Caudle, Associate Director - Economic Development with the Georgia Institute of Technology
Eric Smith, Executive Director, University of Arizona Center for Innovation

Merry Hunter has established herself as a critical piece to the partner engagement, planning, and overall efforts in Technology Square and her works amplify Georgia Tech’s impact on Atlanta’s economy by supporting development within all of the innovation and discovery hubs, including Tech Square. Merry Hunter Caudle is a respected leader across every aspect of the community including partnerships that support start-ups, student engagement, research, professional education and location planning.

Eric Smith was named one of AURP's Rising Stars for 2020. The Rising Star recognizes an individual exhibiting significant contributions to the development and success of communities of innovation, in this case at the University of Arizona Tech Parks. Eric serves as Executive Director for the University of Arizona Center for Innovation and is responsible for the daily operations and growth of the UA Center.

Excalibur Award (COVID-19 National Response and Resiliency):
Biotechnology Innovation Organization
National Governors Association
Nebraska Innovation Campus

This year, AURP recognizes organizations that in their response and resiliency to COVID-19, have provided unique and significant technology solutions, community outreach or leadership to assist their community in better health outcomes. Whether its PPE, new technology for communicating in a virtual world, or vaccine development, our greater community of innovation has provided a beacon of hope even during what seemed the darkest of days. 


“AURP is thrilled to announce our 2020 Award winners. While many others are deserving, these leaders have distinguished themselves in driving their ‘Communities of Innovation’ to new heights,” said Dan Duncan, AURP President and Executive Director, Nebraska Innovation Campus. “I also want to thank and congratulate the 2021 AURP Board of Directors and Officers for leading our organization in the coming year.”
“On behalf of the global AURP innovation community, I extend wholehearted congratulations to all of our 2020 Awards of Excellence honorees,” said AURP CEO Brian Darmody. “Each of these remarkable individuals and the organizations they represent are truly deserving of AURP recognition. We’re delighted to honor their energy, devotion and commitment to advancing the mission of growing university-based innovation and technology communities in the US and worldwide.”

About the Association of University Research Parks (AURP)
The Association of University Research Parks is a professional association of university related research and science parks. AURP's mission is to foster innovation, commercialization and economic growth through university, industry and government partnerships. For more information, visit AURP's web site at

Current & Previous Award Winners