The Inspirational Story of Srikanth Bolla

Srikanth Bolla is the visually challenged MIT graduate whose story of tenacity in the time of adverse conditions has all the ingredients to inspire all of us. Everyone faces adversity, they dream, and they work hard, but only a few cross the threshold of limits set by society.

When Srikanth was born, neighbours in the village termed him useless as he was born blind. In school, he was pushed to the back bench. His father decided to admit him to a special needs school in Hyderabad. The boy thrived — he not only learnt to play chess and cricket, but excelled in them. He topped his class, even embracing an opportunity to work with late President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in the Lead India project. Even then, misfortune never left his side.

24116171854_4398dfe1ed_zWhen he wanted to take up science after his class X, he was denied the option because of his disability. Despite securing 98 percent in the XII board exams, he was denied an engineering seat at IIT. Srikanth not only fought the system but went on to become the first international blind student to be admitted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

He decided to give up the ‘golden’ opportunity in corporate America and came back to India in search of answers to his questions. Speaking at the Development Dialogue Kakatiya Sandbox, he said, “When I was at MIT, I had two options before me. One was to settle down in the US and lead a lavish life, or fight the system. I chose the latter. That’s the quality of an entrepreneur. They need to have a vision and be willing to sacrifice.”

Srikanth is the CEO of Hyderabad-based Bollant Industries, an organization that employs uneducated, disabled employees to manufacture eco-friendly, disposable consumer packaging solutions, which are worth INR 50 crores. It started with just six employees and now employs around 150 people. He also established a company called Aasadeep Projects Pvt Ltd with the mission to overcome employment barriers and to provide sustainable and competitive employment to disabled people with and without education in India.

Srikanth found his inspiration in the everyday challenges that life threw his way. “I want to dedicate my life to the community and social service. I want a place in society where people look up to me as a role model and great leader,” he says.

 

Enabling Rural Startups to Thrive

Analysts estimate that the next 100 million people who will participate in e-commerce will belong to Indias smaller towns. Urban India has definitely benefited from the huge vibrancy in startups, but it’s time to look at how rural startups can be enabled. The biggest problems for rural enterprises to launch are connectivity, customer acquisition, and credit. These stand in the way for rural entrepreneurs to thrive in the market.

A session at the Kakatiya Sandbox Development Dialogue 2016 focused on the importance of stimulating the energy required to encourage the young people in rural India to start something of their own. “Rural areas are a fertile ground for entrepreneurship. You can find a lot of people with an entrepreneurial bent of mind. What is needed is an ecosystem and a system to facilitate peer learning,” says Dr. Radhika Shankar, Founder, Wise Owl Consulting.

24121677794_37efd9a034_zHow many children in rural areas have the freedom to dream, to envisage, think and not worry about their day to day existence? It is important to encourage people to be curious all the way from rural schooling which would help convert them to be great entrepreneurs. They need to learn the art of trying, failing, and doing bigger things. There are a number of highly innovative and thoughtful individuals in rural areas who have the ability to do so, but what is lacking is the support to provide them with ongoing mentorship and funding.

Ajit Rangnekar, Director, GMAC says, “The problems that entrepreneurs try to solve should be relevant in the local context. Find problems in the immediate vicinity and try to solve them.”

Bringing up IT, BPO jobs, and micro centres to generate employment in these areas is one way, but we need to really look at ways to create a platform where companies are inspired to make a change in their own community. Murali Vullaganti, Co-Founder and CEO, Rural Shores adds, “When you set up a business, there is a consumer ecosystem that builds around it. Entrepreneurship is not just providing employment, but enabling the change makers to really start engaging the communities and do more.”

To spark a lot of momentum in enabling startups in rural India, there are several factors that need to be pumped up. Within the next 10 years, around 200,000 startups are a possibility. For the rural public, sky is the limit once they are empowered.

Kakatiya

Inspired by the Deshpande Foundation’s Hubli Sandbox, Mr. Raju Reddy (Sierra Atlantic) and Mr. Phanindra Sama (redbus.in) are supporting the Kakatiya Sandbox initiative to empower the districts of Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Medak in the state of Telangana. Applying a bottom up approach to building scalable solutions, the Kakatiya Sandbox works to create an effective ecosystem where resources are put to use through entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainability.