Srikanth Bolla is a 24-year-old who takes his work very seriously. This CEO of Hyderabad-based Bollant Industries, an organisation that manufactures eco-friendly, disposable consumer packaging solutions, works for 16-18 hours daily, gets a good night’s sleep and makes sure he is at the top of his game.
But Srikanth is not just any entrepreneur. He was born visually-challenged. But, he made up for it with his vision. Today, he not only successfully manages his company but has also provided work for over 450 employees across four plants out of which 70 per cent are differently abled.
It was perhaps this grit and vision that got Ratan Tata interested in the company. Ratan Tata, has now invested a sum in Bollant Industries, making it one of his first non-tech investments. This is Srikanth’s story.
Life, the teacher
Born in a village in Machilipatnam to farmer parents, Srikanth’s life was full of challenges. “Everyone told my parents to kill me. They believed that a blind child couldn’t do much, but I’m grateful that my parents didn’t do that.
They brought me up with love and gave me an education,” he says. From travelling four-five kilometres to school, being pushed to the back bench in class and being ignored by all, Srikanth bore it all.
“After a while my father realised that it wasn’t doing me any good so he put me in a special needs school in Hyderabad and that changed my life,” he says.
Srikanth went on to score 90 per cent in his Board exams but faced a problem when he wanted to take up Science after his class X.
“The authorities said that I could only take up Arts because I was blind. So I sued the government. After six months, there was a GO that said that I could take up Science, but at my own risk. Obviously no one believed that I could do it, and so I went ahead and proved them wrong,” he explains.
But his problems didn’t stop there. When he wanted to join IIT, they said they couldn’t take him, and he didn’t fight it. “Instead I applied to the top colleges in the US like MIT, Stanford, Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon. I chose MIT and I became the first international blind student to study there,” he says.
One of his professors once wrote him a two-page letter. “In the letter he wrote about how proud he was of me that I would not only make it across the campus (and the campus is huge) but would always be the first student in class,” he says. After his bachelors course in MIT, he was back to square one.
“What now?” was the question that plagued him. And instead of taking up a plush job in the US, he returned to where it all started — India.
Here he set up a support service platform (SAMANVAI centre for children with multiple disabilities) along with like minded individuals to rehabilitate differently-abled people.
“We helped 3,000 students acquire an education and vocational rehabilitation. But then I wondered what about their employment? So when we started this social enterprise, we employed 150 differently-abled people.”
Work first, everything else later
For Srikanth, work is his life. “Every day, no matter what time I get to work, I make sure to take a tour of my office. I walk around and listen to the machines and I know when the machines aren’t working properly. I know how the machines sound and when I diagnose the problem, get it repaired,” he says.
Srikanth, started his company three years ago along with his mentor and co-founder Swarna Latha, is now one of the leaders in the market.
So in a market where people didn’t pay much attention to the paper plates and cups that they ate from, Srikanth planned to change the game. “There was no aesthetic quality to the products being created. We changed it all and the fact that we created eco-friendly products was a plus point,” he adds.
‘A bench-mark for every person’
S.P. Reddy, investor and the company’s director, heard about Srikanth, but it was only when he met him that he realised how immensely talented he was. “A friend of mine introduced me to Srikanth and I was shocked that someone who was visually impaired had studied at MIT and was planning to set up a company here in Hyderabad,” says Reddy.
Ravi Mantha another investor and the company’s director, along with S.P. Reddy, make it clear that they didn’t invest out of sympathy. “Srikanth has vision. He knows the market requirements and he has the foresight to think about the future and that was what stood out for me,” they say.
After accomplishing so much in life at the young age of 24, what do Srikanth’s parents have to say to him? “Well, they have just two things to say — get a government job and get married.”...