Srikanth Bolla: When vision makes up for lack of sight
A visually-impaired Indian man, born in a poor farming family, built a Rs1,200 crore company. He is still only 28
Imagine going to school crossing muddy puddles, avoiding vehicles trying to hit you, and that also along a stretch of four to five kilometers. Now imagine doing this task every day, whether it is summer, winter, or monsoon, being visually impaired!
This near-impossible task was done by Srikanth Bolla, as shared on an event in TEDx, who was born visually impaired, in the village of Seetharamapuram of Machilipatnam, a city in Andhra Pradesh. He was born in 1992 to an ordinary farmer's family, who had never seen a child visually impaired before.
At just the age of 28, Srikanth has become the CEO of about Rs1,200 crore company "Bollant Industries Pvt Ltd", with a turnover of Rs150 Crore in the fiscal year of 2019, as reported by Times of India. Srikanth believes that the future is in his hands. His vision is to work for building a future with equal opportunities for everyone.
In the same public event of TEDx, Srikanth shared that his childhood was not always easy, as the villagers of Seetharamapuram, where illiteracy was rampant, had never seen such a child, considering him to be born of sin, and suggested his parents smother him before he grows to be a burden to the family.
Srikanth's loneliness made him concentrate on his studies and at the age of seven, he got admitted to a school for the blind in Hyderabad, where he started to make progress and got the proper education he deserved.
Srikanth shared his struggles on TEDx - he first learned Braille, then English, and gradually learned how to use a computer. He made remarkable progress and won several awards in debating, creative writing, chess, and blind cricket. He became the school's top student. Srikanth passed his matriculation from Devnar School, Hyderabad with 90 percent marks and distinction.
Srikanth also shared that he loved science, but blind students in India were only allowed to study arts beyond grade 10. Srikanth believed, "You do not need eyes to have visions of your career", so he and one of his teachers fought his case before the school board to take science, and won, for which, today, all blind students in India can study science beyond grade 10.
Srikanth got an opportunity to work for Lead India Project, a movement to empower the youth through value-based education, with former President Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. He believed that "No one should let their disability interfere with their dreams". Srikanth took admission to the Royal Junior College and again shocked everyone by scoring 98 percent from science in 2009.
No power in the world can stop an ambitious person from finding success
Srikanth's next big hurdle came when he decided to study engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), yet again, to face discrimination when he was not allowed to get admission there, saying that they did not have facilities to enroll a blind candidate.
Srikanth decided that "If IIT did not want him, he did not want IIT either!" – as quoted by Inktalks. So he applied to foreign schools for an undergraduate programme, where he secured admission in four of the top schools, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon in the United States and in 2009, he eventually chose to get admitted to MIT, who proudly recognised him as their first-ever international blind student.
After completing MIT, Srikanth, leaving behind the well-settled life in America, decided to look at the issues of employability of the disabled. He started Bollant Industries Pvt Ltd in 2012 with the aim of providing livelihood opportunities to the physically challenged and the company has been a recent recipient of an undisclosed investment funding from Ratan Tata, believed to be around USD1.3 million, mentioned in Forbes 30 under 30.
Bollant was built to manufacture eco-friendly products such as areca leaf plates, cups, trays, and dinnerware, betel plates, and disposable plates, spoons, cups, adhesives, and printing inks/printing products operated by handicapped workers. According to Forbes, Bollant consists of over 150 disabled individuals and has five manufacturing units with annual sales crossing over Rs70 million and rising consistently.
Srikanth says that he built Bollant Industries, leaving behind his bright future in the corporate world in the States and regard for his future, as he wanted to build a system of his own where he wanted to "Make products using renewable energy, made by the people considered useless, like him".
He wants to "be a leader working to build a future with equal opportunities for everyone, which means providing work for the abled people also, as Bollant is not a commercial enterprise or a charity home, but a social enterprise working for everyone" – he said addressing a seminar covered by Inktalks.
Srikanth also started a non-profit organisation named Samanvai in 2011 to provide individualised, need-based, and goal-oriented support services to students with multiple disabilities. He increased Braille literacy, built digital libraries, and a Braille printing press to educate students with special needs. Srikanth has managed to mentor and nurture over 3,000 students through Samanvai.
The visually impaired Srikanth now has a vision of building a sustainable company with a workforce comprising of 70 people with disabilities. He speaks extensively of changing people's perceptions about the capabilities of the differently-abled and more sustainable options for the differently-abled people across the world.
While growing up, Srikanth had a hard time and he realised that nothing could be achieved easily. He strongly believes in ambition, that, "No power in the world can stop an ambitious person from finding success". He fought for what he deserved, he made it clear to everyone that being visually impaired cannot hold anyone back. He inspires the world with his entrepreneurial story and often says, "Disability is when you have sight, but do not have vision."