Srikanth Bolla/ Bollant Industries
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In school, he was made to sit on the last bench, not because he was tall. His teachers found him impossible, not because he didn’t pay attention in the class. During the PT hour, he was forced to sit out, not because he couldn’t run. His classmates shunned him, not because he couldn’t play. The ‘establishment’ asked him to take arts, not because he wasn’t good at science and maths. The IIT said he cannot, not because he couldn’t. At home, he was not the ‘apple of eye’ because he was sightless. The world around him was cold and the walk lonely for Srikanth Bolla. As a child, the cruel taunts stuck him in his face like brutal punches.
But Srikanth is a fighter, almost like a boxer in the ring, the 27-year-old remained tenacious in his pursuit. When the Andhra Pradesh Education Board refused to grant him permission to choose maths, physics and chemistry in Intermediate, he filed a lawsuit, won and pursued MPC. When IIT discriminated him on the basis of his disability, he ‘winked’ at the country’s premier institute for its ‘blind policy’ and went to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). As a fitting reply for being ignored at the PT class, he played cricket for India and chess at the national level.
“When the educational system in India rejected me because of my disability, MIT welcomed me with open arms. I will always be grateful to the institution,” says Srikanth Bolla who spurned corporate offers in the US to be a catalyst in India.
The stigmatic childhood experiences then motivated Srikanth Bolla to set up Bollant Industries, a bio-degradables and sustainable packaging company. “Working for someone else is not in my DNA. Disabled is indicative of an attitude of the mind, not the body. Our brains are hardwired to produce our best efforts only when there is hardship. I faced so much of hardship in my life that it has become an addiction to me,” laughs the CEO of Bollant Industries as he browses the Internet on his Apple laptop with a built-in assistive technology that translates on-screen information into speech. A torrent of calls interrupt him. “The first hour is hectic. Our operations head is on a vacation. I am doing his job,” he informs as he takes a call on his iPhone. “Has the vehicle come? We should deliver around 17 tons. I want an update on Whatsapp immediately.”
Another call. “The first row of the load is ours, check the papers and confirm. Unloading should happen in the next 10 minutes and should be delivered to the party. How will you execute it? What is your plan of action?” he doesn’t mince words as he pulls up one of his staff members over the phone. Another call, doesn’t seem to be the last one though. “Check your WhatsApp, there is a compliant from a party. This is not the way it is done.” The tone is firm, the voice unwavering.
“So, yeah, the idea to set up Bollant Industries was mainly to fight three major challenges in India. First, to create employment opportunities for millions of differently-abled people. An estimated 100 million plus uneducated and unskilled people with varied disabilities desperately need employment. The second big challenge was Indian farmers hardly have structured means to turn agricultural waste into cash. Third, large quantities of toxic and plastic waste are endangering the environment,” he explains the idea behind Bollant Industries which started as a small cottage social enterprise with a small investment by Srikanth Bolla and his life time mentor Swarnalatha in 2012, since then Bollant had been growing at 20% a month. Currently, Bollant grosses Rs 10 crore a month in sales with seven factories and a strong retail chain of stores. Angel investors like Ravi Mantha and S P Reddy believed in Srikanth Bolla’s vision and invested in the company. Today that vision – Bollant Industries – is valued at around Rs 413 crore as of September 2017. The founder and CEO of Bollant Industries envisions the valuation of the company at around Rs 1,200 crore in the near-term, and hopes to achieve Rs 150 crore turnover in FY2019.
Seeing is believing. Other investors like Srini Raju of Peepul Capital, Satish Reddy of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Kiran of VFDCL, and Anil Chalamalasetty of Greenko followed. Then the big name in India’s corporate world --- Ratan Tata --- became part of that vision.
When Srikanth Bolla was born sightless, some ‘visionless’ villagers in Seetharampuram in Machilipatnam advised his parents to “get rid off him”. “I was not born blind, I was made to believe I was blind,” he recalls. The word without vision is blind --- a dark and a hopeless place to live. The sightless with a vision see a brave new world. That vision is now a hope to several differently-abled. “Bollant Industries also employs able-bodied people,” he laughs as he drives away in his Honda Civic car.