Alum Is Proud of His Role in Keeping Everyone Connected During the Pandemic

Bhupen Shah
Acacia Communications Vice President of Engineering Bhupen Shah ’92 helped develop technology to improve high-speed communication networks that make Zoom meetings possible.

By Sarah Corbett

If you are like millions of other workers around the globe right now, you may be “Zoomed out”—but just a handful of years ago, you would likely be more irritated about constantly getting kicked off online meetings.
“If the pandemic had hit us five or seven years ago, the world’s networks would have crashed,” says Bhupen Shah ’92, vice president of engineering for Maynard, Massachusetts-based Acacia Communications Inc.
“Think about what is happening today,” Shah says. “Much of the world is working from home and many schools are remote. We are staying in more, so we are getting our entertainment from things like Netflix, Prime and video-game streaming. The pandemic put a lot of stress on the network—yet you don’t hear about many big problems with the network.”
Acacia is partly to thank for that. Founded in 2009, the company was formed to improve the speed of the fiber optic network, through which all data in the world runs. Whereas 11 years ago, the standard download speed was 10 gigabits per second, today it is at 400, Shah says —with speeds as fast as 600 gigabits per second.
Because Acacia supplies equipment in this market, “we’re responsible for keeping a share of the world’s networking running,” he says. “We’re not medical professionals, on the front lines taking care of people, but we do have a small role to be proud of during this pandemic.”
Shah — who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the university — has played a big role in making that (and all of our Zoom meetings) happen. He oversees research and development at Acacia, where he was employee No. 1.
“There were the three founders, then me,” he says, adding that the company now generates $500 million in annual revenue and has 450 employees in offices all around the world.
In July 2019, the company announced it had agreed to a $2.84 billion acquisition by Cisco Systems. “It is all done except for a few steps,” says Shah. “In such a deal, you need to get regulatory approvals from several countries, and we are just waiting for China.”

Paving the Road for Future Entrepreneurs

Shah says he has always enjoyed startup companies.
“After graduation, I worked for a couple startups, then started my own and eventually sold it, so that was a pretty good success,” he says.
Shah co-founded and served as the vice president of engineering of Atlantic Cores — and went on to hold roles as director of hardware and software development at Broadcom and director of engineering at Juniper Networks.
He says the faculty at UMass Lowell prepared him well for those roles.
“I had started at Northeastern but did not like it, so I transferred to UMass Lowell,” says Shah, who commuted from Jamaica Plain. “The professors at UML really cared; it mattered to them that you were learning. I also really liked that much of the faculty also worked in industry, so they brought practical knowledge to their teaching, and not just theoretical.”
Shah has tried to pay it forward, sharing his own practical knowledge with today’s UML students. After serving as a judge in the university’s DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge, he offered to mentor one of the student teams.
“I was intrigued by their idea, so I have mentored them—and they are having some success,” he says, referring to Invisawear, a startup launched by UML students which creates smart jewelry that can send the wearer’s location to 911 dispatchers and loved ones during an emergency.
Mentoring students is just one way that Shah has given back to the university. He has worked with faculty in both the Francis College of Engineering and the Kennedy College of Sciences to provide sponsored research and co-op placements at Acacia.
In April 2020, Shah and his wife, Ramika, pledged the funds to renovate Kitson Hall, which will be renamed Shah Hall next fall.
“I learned a lot at UMass Lowell, and I am trying to pay it back in any way I can,” he says. “We are grateful for the opportunity to help update Kitson. Though the majority of my classes were in Ball Hall, I did have classes in Kitson, so it feels close to me.”
The Shahs — who live in Boxborough, Massachusetts, and have two grown sons — also have an endowed scholarship fund, named for the family, to help engineering students pursue their degrees. They have also supported the Francis College of Engineering Dean’s Discretionary Fund and the Student Emergency Needs Fund.
“I owe a lot to the university,” he says, “and it is important to me to do whatever I can to help other UMass Lowell students become innovators. It’s a win-win.”