Life in Burlington: An Update From Andy Ory of 128 Technology

OK, you started a technology company, took it public, and sold it to Oracle for $2 billion-plus. What do you do for an encore?

If you’re Andy Ory, you go back to where you started. Ory, 48, is the co-founder and former CEO of the aforementioned Acme Packet, a networking tech company that ranks as one of New England’s big success stories. Now he’s building a stealthy new company, called 128 Technology, and he’s doing it in the ‘burbs—Burlington, MA, to be exact. That is where Acme Packet had its headquarters before moving to nearby Bedford in 2010.

The decision speaks to a slight cultural divide that has emerged between startups in the Boston suburbs and those in urban areas thought to be hipper and more happening, such as Kendall Square, the Seaport District, and downtown Boston.

Ory, who co-founded 128 Technology with former Acme Packet colleagues, including Patrick MeLampy, says the team considered setting up shop in Cambridge or Boston first. But major traffic issues and high rents brought them back to Burlington. “The reasons we loved it then are the reasons we loved it all over again,” Ory says.

The demographics of Burlington and its surrounding communities are “slightly older” than in the city, Ory acknowledges. “A larger fraction of folks here have mortgages and families. The flip side is they tend to stay in their jobs longer.”

The list of tech companies in the Burlington area includes Nuance, iRobot, Veracode, Demandware, Black Duck Software, Arbor Networks, and LoopPay (acquired by Samsung), as well as outposts of giants like Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware. On the flip side, Acquia and VMTurbo have moved from Burlington to downtown Boston.

Ory goes far to make the case for the vibrancy of the suburbs. “I believe Burlington is every bit as important to the region as Kendall Square,” he says.

Commercial real estate is often a driver of innovation clusters. While first-class office space in Burlington costs somewhere in the range of $32-$38 per square foot, rents for comparable spaces in the Boston area are 20 to 25 percent higher, according to 128 Technology spokesman Mike O’Malley. Generally, he says, Kendall Square is priciest, followed by the Seaport area, and then the Alewife outskirts of Cambridge.

Ory, who left Oracle in the late summer of 2013, was mum on what 128 Technology is actually building or how big the current team is. He did say, “We are very engineer-centric.” The company has raised at least $12 million from investors.

You might wonder why Ory jumped back into the startup race so soon. The answer seems to be that entrepreneurship is how he’s wired. “It’s fun to build a culture, to put together a group of people,” Ory says. “It’s fun to work out a problem. You learn. When I started this business, I was determined not to make any mistakes. Well, I wasn’t a week in when I made a mistake. But my mean time to mistake recognition and mistake resolution were so much faster.”

“I love the group of people I worked with in the past,” he adds. “We developed a skill set of identifying and selecting markets. Now we get to do it again. We get to decide where do we want to aim our camera—what story do we want to tell, and how do we want to participate in the narrative.”

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