From the Start
The Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the most visible result of a significant shift in the history of the University of Illinois: the incorporation of economic development and innovation into its core mission.
The Research Park’s beginnings largely mirror the story of the University itself; it has sprouted a vibrant, multidisciplinary community producing highly influential technological advances – a reflection of the modernization of its land-grant roots in agriculture and engineering .
“The mission of the Research Park is much in collaboration with the mission of the University of Illinois,” said Ed McMillan, chairman of the Board of Managers for the Research Park and a University of Illinois trustee. “In addition to teaching – in addition to research and outreach – it’s also commercialization of technology.”
The Research Park was approved by the Board of Trustees in November 1999. The University established a separate University of Illinois Research Park Limited Liability Company in March 2000 for governance of the Research Park. Since the first building opened its doors in January 2001, Research Park’s growth and development has been a boon in multiple ways for the University.
Three of its most significant value propositions have been the opportunities afforded for faculty to develop and commercialize new technology in conjunction with their academic work; for established companies to collaborate with University of Illinois faculty and researchers; and for students to experience highly regarded internship opportunities.
The Research Park’s thriving innovative community is the result of an intentional transformation in the University of Illinois’ approach to entrepreneurial activity, one that encompasses the entire campus.
“It means many resources are there to support (entrepreneurs), through mentoring and financing and building, as well as promoting that this is a good activity to do,” said Laura Frerichs, Research Park Director. “We support and encourage entrepreneurship and taking what is being done in a research lab and translating that into a commercializable product.”
The State of Illinois provided funding to build EnterpriseWorks, the early-stage tech firm business incubator, in 2003, and the first tenants moved in during early 2004. It is a significant bridge between research at the university and commercialization of technology by faculty, staff and students. One of the Research Park’s strengths is that it is a place where the newest of startups settling in at EnterpriseWorks feels comfortable rubbing shoulders with established national and international corporations. Educational, training, social and networking events in the Research Park facilitate a community feel. Partnerships between companies are progressing at a rapid rate.
“That mixture of Fortune 500 and 100 companies, as well as smaller technology-oriented companies who wanted to become Fortune 500 companies as well as the mixture of new startup companies has been a great plan,” McMillan said. “Interestingly the larger, well-established companies accelerated the speed at which we could bring internships into the park. That really helped get more employment opportunities for students by getting those larger companies in early.”
The Research Park’s public-private partnership with Champaign-based Fox/Atkins Development has been critical to its success. The University first entered into a partnership with Fox/Atkins in May 2000 after a competitive bidding process. Fox/Atkins leases the land from the University, and has built the buildings – much of it customized – for the Park’s high-tech tenants. (More on the developer partnership HERE).
Research Park Milestones
In November 1999, The Research Park was approved by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
In 2000, the University of Illinois Research Park LLC is registered in the State of Illinois. In July, John Parks is hired to become the first director of UIRP.
In January 2001, UIRP’s first building – then the Motorola Building – opens its doors at the corner of First and St. Mary’s Road. This building was renamed in memory of the late Clint Atkins in 2011.
In July 2003, EnterpriseWorks incubator construction is completed, with the first tenants moving in that fall. The building cost $8 million to construct, and was funded by the State of Illinois.
In August 2008, the I-Hotel and Conference Center opens its doors, adding a new and critical amenity to the Research Park. The Conference Center would later become home to signature conference events for Research Park.
In June 2009, Laura Frerichs is hired as the Associate Director of the Research Park. She is promoted to Director and most recently, Executive Director, in 2019.
In December 2011, the Research Park is honored by AURP (the Association of University Research Parks) as the 2011 Outstanding Research Park of the Year. The Outstanding Research/Science Park Achievement Award recognizes parks that excel in bringing technology from the laboratory to economically viable business activities, thus promoting the growth of businesses, jobs and public revenue.
In August 2013, a $6 million road project funded by the city of Champaign and the state of Illinois opens up more land for development in the Research Park. This project connects Fourth Street between St. Mary’s and Windsor Roads. It also included the extension of Hazelwood and Gerty Drives to the east to meet the new Fourth Street.
In December 2014, the 40,000 square foot Yahoo building opens. Yahoo (now part of Verizon Media Group) is the largest full-time employer in the Research Park, with more than 200 staff members.
In February 2016, the Research Park hosts its first AgTech Innovation Summit, reflecting the growth of AgTech startups as well as corporate activity at UIRP. AgTech is now one of the largest sectors for employment – both full-time and student employment.
In September 2018, the Board of Trustees at the University of Illinois approved a new Research Park master plan to shape future development. It has been updated to reflect forward-thinking priorities such as infill development, tenant-driven amenities, walkability, and connectivity to the community and other parts of campus.
In July 2019, oversight of the Research Park was returned by the University of Illinois System to the auspices of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, specifically falling under the Office of the Chancellor for Research and Innovation. As a result, the Board of Managers for the University of Illinois Research Park LLC was restructured.
In September 2020, the Illinois Conference Center expansion was completed, making it the largest facility of its kind in the region. Located adjacent to the I-Hotel, the Illinois Conference Center has space to hold 600 attendees in one room, with an additional 32,500 square feet.
In October 2020, 1907 S. Fourth St., a new mixed-use building in the Research Park, opened for occupancy. A combined effort between Research Park administration, University administration, and Fox/Atkins Development, LLC, has brought a new building to Research Park. The building houses tenants whose work supports the mission of the Park. The project features flexible suite sizes, ample parking, and a custom lobby and lounge area.
In March 2021, the RIPE Greenhouse, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in an effort to advance with the RIPE project, opened and was fully operational. The greenhouse will be a modern plant phenotyping facility and joins a growing agtech cluster in the Research Park that includes major global seed companies, equipment manufacturers, retailers, and bioprocessing leaders. The greenhouse is operated by the College of ACES in collaboration with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.