He is the 23-year-old blind CEO of the Rs. 50 crore Hyderabad-based Bollant Industries. The company employs disabled and uneducated people to manufacture eco-friendly disposable packaging products.
Srikanth Bolla’s life was never easy. He faced discrimination because of his disability all his life. When he was born blind, the villagers in Sitaramapuram in Andhra Pradesh advised his farmer parents to let him die. His parents, to their credit, paid no heed. At school too, he would often be pushed to the last bench and would not be included in active sports. Yet, this didn’t deter Srikanth, who excelled in studies and topped the Class 10 board exams in his school. At the Intermediate level, when he wanted to opt for Science, the Andhra Pradesh Education Board refused to grant permission. It said that Arts was what the only stream the blind could take up. Srikanth filed a case and, after a six month wait, the Board agreed to let him pursue Science. Srikanth topped his Class 12, securing a 98%.
The next big hurdle came when he decided he wanted to study engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). He faced discrimination yet again when he was denied an admit card to the IIT entrance examination. That’s when Srikanth decided, “If IIT doesn’t want me, I don’t want IIT either!” He applied to schools in the United States for an undergraduate programme and secured admission in four of the top schools – MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon. He eventually chose MIT and became the school’s first international blind student.
“The world looks at me and says, ‘Srikanth, you can do nothing.’ I look back at the world and say ‘I can do anything’.”
After graduating from MIT, Srikanth decided to do something about the discriminations faced by the disabled in our country. Giving up corporate opportunities in America, he came back to India and started Samanvai, a non-profit organization in Hyderabad, to provide individualized, need-based and goal-oriented support services to students with multiple disabilities. He promoted Braille literacy, a digital library and a Braille printing press/library to provide tutorial services for such students. Through Samanvai, Srikanth has managed to mentor and nurture over 3,000 students so far.
As a next big step, he decided to look at the issue of employability of the disabled. In 2012, Srikanth started Bollant Industries Pvt. Ltd., with the aim of providing livelihood opportunities to the physically challenged. The company manufactures eco-friendly products such as areca leaf plates, cups, trays, and dinnerware, betel plates, and disposable plates, spoons and cups. The company also manufactures adhesives and printing inks/printing products. So impressed was angel investor Ravi Mantha with Srikanth’s business model and vision, that he not only invested in the company but is also Srikanth’s mentor. Today, Bollant employs over 150 disabled individuals and has five manufacturing units. Its annual sales have already crossed Rs. 70 million.
For the future, Srikanth has a vision of building a sustainable company with a workforce comprising 70% people with disabilities. He sure has come a long way in changing people’s perceptions about the capabilities of the differently abled.