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  • Ankit Uttam

The Blind Man Who Rejected IITs and Built a 500 Crore company - Srikanth Bolla

"He'll never amount to anything," Srikanth's relatives had advised his parents to abandon him, or worse kill him, right after he was born. "He would be a burden on you in your old age rather than taking care of you." 

Every day, for two years, six-year-old Srikanth Bolla walked several miles to school in rural India, clutching his brother's hand tightly as they navigated the muddy track to school. 

At times he followed his classmates.

The six-year-old's world was a blend of sounds - the crunch of dirt under their feet, the rustle of shrubs lining the path, his brother's reassuring voice guiding him forward. 

At home, the jeers continued. 

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Well-meaning relatives hounded his poor, illiterate parents. 

"Just kill him with a pillow," they'd say. "He'll never amount to anything. He can't even guard his own home against street dogs!"

It wasn't a happy time.

At the school, no one talked to him.

He was rejected by the community.

Ignoring all this, his parents continue to support him. Love him. 

And, when he turned eight, Srikanth's father told him that Srikanth had been accepted at a boarding school for the blind in Hyderabad.

Though the city was over 400 kilometers (249 miles) away, this chance at better education felt like a lifeline.

At the time, the city was in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Although a long way from his parents, Srikanth was excited and quickly settled in.

The transition to his new school was remarkably smooth. For the first time, Srikanth had friends - classmates who showed him the ropes. 

He learned to swim, play chess and play cricket with a ball that made rattling sounds so he could locate it.

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"It is about the hand and the ear," he said.

But as much as he relished these pursuits, Srikanth's true dream was to become an engineer.

Science and math would be crucial for that.

Srikanth Bolla
Srikanth Bolla

When the time came to select his courses, the school bluntly refused.

"We cannot teach blind students those visually complicated subjects. It's illegal for us." The school said.

Indian schools are run by several bodies, each with their own rules. 

Some come under the state governments or central boards, others are managed privately.

Srikanth's school was run by the State Board of Education of Andhra Pradesh and, as such, was not permitted to teach science and math to blind senior students because it was considered too much of a challenge with its visual elements like diagrams and graphs. 

Instead, they could study the arts, languages, literature and social sciences.

It was 2007 and Srikanth was frustrated by this arbitrary law that wasn't the same for all schools. 

The arbitrary laws hung like a death knell for Srikanth's dreams. 

But one of Srikanth's teachers wasn't willing to accept that.

The duo went to the Board of Secondary Education in Andhra Pradesh to plead their case, but they were told nothing could be done.

Then they found a lawyer and, with the support of the school management team, filed a case with the High Court of Andhra Pradesh appealing for a change to education law to allow blind students to study math and science.

"The lawyer fought it on their behalf and Srikanth who was a student didn't need to appear in court himself.

While the case slowly moved on, Srikanth got good news. 

A mainstream school in Hyderabad - Chinmaya Vidyalaya - that operated under a different education body, offered science and math to blind students. 

It had a place for Srikanth if he was interested.

Srikanth was happy to enroll.

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He was the only blind student in his class, but the school welcomed him with open arms.

His class teacher was very friendly. She did everything that was possible to help him.

The real breakthrough came six months later. 

The Andhra Pradesh court delivered a landmark ruling: blind students could study science and math in senior years across all state schools in AndhraPradesh.

Srikanth's triumph was not just personal but a beacon of hope for future generations. "I felt ecstatic," he says, reflecting on the victory. "It wasn't just for me. It was a door opened for all those who will come after me. I also got the first opportunity to prove to the world that I could do it and the younger generation needn't worry about filing cases and fighting through the court," he says.

Returning to a state board school, Srikanth excelled in his studies, particularly in math and science, with an astounding average of 98%. 

His wanted to apply to India's prestigious engineering colleges known as the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology).

Srikanth Bolla with the Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam

But to crack IITs, students often attend intense coaching ahead of entrance exams - but coaching schools rejected him.

They assumed he wouldn't to able to meet the academic standard.

"But I have no regrets. If IIT don't want me, I don't want IITs either," he says with a resilient smile.

Srikanth, undeterred, set his sights further afield.

He applied to universities in America instead and received five offers, settling on Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts marking him as the first international blind student to walk its halls.

He arrived there in 2009.

His early days there were a "mixed experience".

The extreme cold was the first shock as he wasn't used to such cold weather. The food smelt and tasted different. All that he ate for the first month were French fries and fried chicken fingers.

But he soon began to adjust.

"The time at MIT was the loveliest period of my life." he says.

In terms of academic rigour, it was tough and gruesome. Their disability services did great work in supporting, accommodating and bringing him up to speed.

During his time at MIT, Srikanth also founded Samanvai Center for Children with Multiple Disabilities in Hyderabad, giving back to the community that shaped him. He also opened a Braille library there with money he raised.

Life was going well. After studying management science at MIT he was offered several jobs, but he chose not to stay in the States.

Srikanth's school experience had left a mark, and he felt like he had unfinished business in his native country.

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He returned to Hyderabad, driven by a mission to create a more inclusive society. "I realized the struggle for a fair education was meaningless without job opportunities for the disabled," he explains. "I had to struggle so much for everything in life whereas not everybody can fight like me or have mentors like me." 

He thought: "Why don't I start my own company and employ persons with disabilities?"

In 2012, Srikanth founded Bollant Industries, his vision of a world where disability does not dictate one's future. 

The company, which produces eco-friendly packaging, places a strong emphasis on employing disabled individuals, showcasing the untapped potential within this often-overlooked community.

It employs as many disabled people and those with mental health conditions as possible. 

“I call myself a waste person, because I really love waste,” CEO Srikanth Bolla says. “I want to recycle all the waste that I can in this world”

His company currently employs around 400 people, a quarter of whom have disabilities. 

“Our core vision is to employ as many people as possible who are at the margins of society,” Bolla says.

Ratan Tata Invested in Srikanth Bolla's company Bollant

Valued at $65 million, with funding from investors including Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, Bollant Industries operates seven manufacturing plants, producing hundreds of tons of products each month, ranging from tableware to packaging.

The investment in Bollant Industries was his first foray into a manufacturing business. 

At the age of 30, Srikanth made it onto the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders 2021 list.

His next goal is to launch Bollant Industries's global IPO - and list its shares simultaneously on multiple international stock exchanges.

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Bollywood has also come calling. 

A biopic starring well known actor Rajkummar Rao has been announced and will release on 1st May 2024.

Srikanth hopes it will stop people underestimating him when they first meet him.

"Initially people would think, 'oh, he's blind…how sad' but the moment I start explaining who I am and what I do, everything changes."

Srikanth Bolla



My name is Ankit Uttam

I'm an Author (20+ books- A few of them have been on bestsellers charts too), and I'm a solopreneur who is trying to learn each day about how to navigate this growing space and also help a few people along the way.

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