“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller
This is one of my favourite quotes and perfectly fits in the life of Srikanth Bolla, a a visually challenged person, who was denied admission by the IIT and who is now the CEO of a company worth Rs. 50 crore. Yes, he was that same blind child whose parents were told by the neighbors to abandon him because a blind son is useless.
Today, at the age of 23, Srikanth is the founder of Hyderabad based Bollant Industries. Bollant employs uneducated and disabled people to manufacture eco-friendly, disposable consumer packaging solutions. This company has been valuated and it is worth Rs 50 crores today. He says, “The world looks at me and says, ‘Srikanth, you can do nothing. I look back at the world and say I can do anything!”
Srikanth considers himself the luckiest person not because he has achieved so much in life, but because he has got parents who didn’t give up at those times when the entire world was against them. Born into a poor and uneducated family and in a remote village, his parents earned just Rs. 20,000 a year but strived hard to let their son achieve all he wished to. As a child he and his parents had to go through a lot of criticism and when he was admitted in a school, his parents were forced to send him to a differently abled school for the blind. Instead of pushing him into more darkness, this move paved his path to success. This is where things turned around for him. His sadness and loneliness slowly faded away giving way to a zeal to do something different. With this indomitable spirit and support from his teachers and fellow students, he excelled in academics and sports like chess and cricket. In the 10th boards, he was able to score a distinction of 90% and yet wasn’t granted a seat by the board to choose Science as his stream for Class 11 and 12, owing to his visual impairment.
Srikanth was determined to prove to the world that blind people are not useless and sued the government and fought in court for half a year to get justice. He fought against the education system that he should be allowed to study Science and he was willing to do that at his own risk.
He immediately converted his textbooks into audiobooks and studied to score a 93% in his class 12. This was still not enough for him to get into BITS Pilani or IIT as he was not allowed to sit for entrance exams due to his disability. This did not deter him but made him set his goal to get into the top 4 schools in the US and eventually securing a seat at MIT with a scholarship. He became the first international blind student to get into MIT with a scholarship. Post his Masters at MIT, he chose to come back to India with the idea of empowering the differently abled. He wanted to set up a platform for people like him and he didn’t want any of them to face the hardships that he had faced.
Initially helping about 3000 students in acquiring an education and vocational rehabilitation, he then thought about their employment, and set up manufacturing unit employing differently abled people. Srikanth says that his major inspiration and guidance was his special needs teacher, Swarnalatha, who also happens to be the co-founder of his company and trains all employees with disabilities, thus creating a community with a strong sense of belonging and teamwork.
Today this man has 4 production plants, one each in Hubli and Nizamabad and two in Hyderabad. His next plant will be at Sri City and will be running on 100% on solar power. Srikanth met angel investor Ravi Mantha about two years ago and Ravi was so impressed with his business acumen and vision that he decided to mentor and invest in Srikanth’s company. They raised Rs 9 crores in funding.
Mere appreciation to Shrikanth and his family might just not suffice the great inspiration they have set. Hats off to the parents to inspire Srikanth to achieve great heights today and a big salute to Srikanth himself to be able to believe in himself, have faith in his parents, to become what he is today.
Srikanth strongly believes in “Show compassion and make people rich. Include people in your life and remove loneliness, and lastly, do something good; it will come back to you.”