AURP Wins Stage One of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2024 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition

AURP awarded $50,000 in prize money for equitable access to entrepreneurship

Tucson, AZ, and College Park, MD, April 24, 2024 – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) this week announced the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) as a Stage One winner for the 2024 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition (GAFC). AURP will receive a $50,000 cash prize for its impactful and inclusive approach to nurturing a collaborative national innovation ecosystem to advance small business research and development (R&D) from ideas to the market.

By fostering connections between entrepreneurs, mentors, partners, philanthropies, corporations, investors and other shared resources, GAFC 2024 catalyzes strategic ecosystem partnerships to build community and organizational capacity for the successful launch, growth and scale of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)-based entrepreneurs.

“AURP’s award winning model ‘RAIN’ (Rural Autonomous Innovation Network) will leverage our existing university members (our ecosystem partners - The RAIN Makers), plus supporting firms in rural EPSCOR states and rural areas," said Vickie Palmer, CEO of AURP. "Through AURP’s Air & Space Caucus, RAIN will support rural entrepreneurship programs on autonomous vehicles and robotics, both in land and sky, among our AURP members to help overcome the barriers small tech businesses in rural areas confront.”

The AURP Air & Space Caucus is co-chaired by Erin Koshut, Executive Director of Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, AL (and 2023-2024 AURP President) and Matt Scassero, Director for Research, Innovations and Outreach at the University System of Maryland.

“RAIN will catalyze the development of start-up autonomous air and ground vehicle firms from universities and partnering communities, and endeavor to involve HBCUs and MSIs in rural areas for advancement of these firms, connecting them with autonomous industry catalysts, funders, regulatory support and entrepreneurial training,” said Brian Darmody, Chief Strategy Officer of AURP. 

SBA welcomed Stage One submissions from a broad range of organizations with a collaborative vision to nurture a national ecosystem for equitable access to entrepreneurship. Winners of Stage One were selected through a multi-tier review panel process with experts in entrepreneurship, business, innovation and strategic planning both inside and outside of the federal government.

Stage Two offers an additional $50,000 to $150,000 in cash prizes for Growth Accelerator Partnerships. To learn more about Stage Two opportunities and to access the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Guidelines, visit:

On November 11-14, 2024, AURP will host a session on autonomous technologies supporting rural ecosystems at its 2024 International Conference in Bentonville, AR. This event will be hosted by the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation.

In its Stage Two application, AURP will seek SBIR funding resources from U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Commerce, Transportation, Defense and others to support expanded outreach to HBCU and rural entrepreneurs. With Stage Two funding, AURP, in 2025, will plan to support new partnerships with I-Corps nodes, Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, SSBCI funders and SBDC offices among its members in rural areas to host national workshops for rural autonomous small business entrepreneurs in Maryland, Alabama and North Dakota.

“From inequity and climate change, to supporting national defense and community-driven economic prosperity, the real opportunity now is to build up innovation ecosystems, and AURP is eager to deepen its collaborative impact in driving RAIN to build underserved rural communities of innovation,” said Palmer.

About AURP:
AURP - a non-profit international organization with offices in the Washington, D.C. area at the University of Maryland Discovery District; headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, at the University of Arizona Tech Park; and another situated in Northern California - focuses on creating communities of innovation and education for research parks, both operating and planned, plus innovation districts, incubators, accelerators and the businesses that support the research park industry. AURP and its global membership promote research, institute-industry relations and innovation districts to foster innovation and to facilitate the transfer of technology from such institutions to the private sector. Learn more:

Media Contact:
Ken Berlack
[email protected]