“Disability is not inability,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in one of is blog posts on LinkedIn, which can be categorically summed up how differently abled entrepreneurs are inspiring others. Contrary to the sense of dependency, failure and social stigma, Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group; Ingvar Kamprad, Founder, IKEA Tommy Hilfiger, a fashion designer, and Founder, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, are few such entrepreneurs who beat all odds to become more able than “normal” people. Their stories are about their will to be self-reliant which they got through entrepreneurship. Entrepreneur brings to you few inspiring stories of those in India who believed “in-ability” instead of inability.
Disability to possibility
After getting diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 1974, Bansal lost all hope of doing anything worthy in his life until a doctor from London advised him to start a home- based coaching that instantly fascinated him. Started in 1983 with single student, Bansal Classes today has an annual intake of around 6,000 across 15 centres. Coaching helped Bansal overcome his physical inability and mental trauma.
“I used to worry about my family, and there was a threat to my job also, but coaching diverted my mind towards the positive side and didn’t allow me to think about my disease,” says Bansal, who otherwise would have continued his job at Kota-based Jaykay Enterprises (earlier known as JK Synthetics) or would have become a CEO of some company.
The only challenge for Bansal is paying high remuneration to his faculty members because of which paying for coaching fee has become unaffordable for many students. “Any business that has the potential and doesn’t require huge investment is going to face competition. Since coaching comes under service industry, faculties switch to other coaching institutes for better remuneration, which is quite obvious. But we still keep giving our best to our students with the team of faculties and hence have produced five times All India Rank 1 holders,” says Bansal.
A strong contender
Hailing from a small remote village near Bhatinda in Punjab, Naveen Garg’s family wasn’t quite well off financially with his father being a postman. Growing up a life full of aspirations, Garg was certain that a good education can help him get a better life. His ambition paid off when he got admitted to National Institute of Technology in Jalandhar in 2008.
However during second year of his college within four months his life changed. Garg realised that he was suffering from incurable muscular dystrophy (that lead to weakening and wasting of muscles over the time). Since then, he has been rigorously doing yoga and meditation that has brought the disease under control.
“I didn’t have any other option but to regroup myself because I had education loan to pay back. I started watching videos of motivational speakers with disabilities on YouTube and that gave me mental and emotional strength,” says Garg.
He first showed his entrepreneurial spark in a college project of dismantling bikes and cars to impart practical training to engineering students under the name Prigma Edutek in 2011. This later took form of Prigma Edutech Services in 2013, a start-up offering skill-focussed training programmes to students and professionals belonging to automobile sector focusing on manufacturing, product and design development as Garg saw need of skilled-based talent for fast growing auto sector.
“Our motive with the start-up was to spread the knowledge, which we gained during our college project, to new students through practical training of dismantling and mantling bikes and cars,” says Garg, who has bootstrapped the start-up so far and is profitable.
A powerful duo
The 28-year old enterprising duo zipped horticulture their way to entrepreneurship in 2010 with Twin Twigs that manufactures plates and bowls using bio-degradable bauhinia leaves. Suffering from cerebral palsy, their mother Radha Ramesh recognised her sons likening towards making leaf-plates as a vocation. They learnt to be environment conscious at Vidya Sagar, a voluntary organisation in Chennai for people suffering from cerebral palsy.
Hence, Radha helped her sons setting up a small unit making leaf-plates when they were 23-year old. The duo has received only functional academics because of the problem. Despite their limitations and learning disabilities, Sunder and Sriram devote most of their time in business but it’s been tough for them to scale it.
“To get orders on the basis of quality is tough as many people place orders looking at their disability, whereas our plates and bowls are of premium quality, not like the ones you usually get in the market,” says Radha translating Sunder’s words.
Like any other start-up entrepreneur, the duo is actively involved in multiple things. “We buy raw materials, oversee accounts, get orders, manufacture and deliver them on our own. We never wanted to sit idle. We are very happy with what we are doing,” says Radha for Sriram.
The little money earned in few thousands every month is put back into the business and a part of it Suder and Sriram spend on themselves as a “pocket money,” as they call it with smile. The start-up will be buying 10 automated machines by next month to increase production in less time and will soon be foraying into horticulture.
Bengaluru-based Ajit Babu is a 26 year-old serial entrepreneur, born with Dyslexia (a learning disability) and Cerebral Palsy (with minimal control over his body’s left part) and lives in his garage, which is his roomcum-office despite having his own house in the same building.
After doing two digital media start-ups starting in 2009, Babu started LifeHack Innovations after Nepal earthquake struck this year, to touch lives of needy people by some way. Electronics was one such way to do that. He started using renewable energy (wind and solar) which is low cost and not maintenance heavy for gadgets. His first product LUFT, which means air, is a solar, wind and electricity powered portable charger for smartphones that will be available in Indian and African market by next month.
Having grown up with the disease, Babu says he never felt special nor did his parents treat him differently. “I never felt to be different. I turned entrepreneur because I love and I want to do good for people, job couldn’t offer me that. I didn’t want my parents to worry about who will support me or marry me because they can’t be with me for my entire life,” says Babu.
Currently being incubated at Vel Tech Technology Business Incubator in Chennai, Babu would be aiming for 45 different patents for its products in next three years. The start-up already has a ready market in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and will probably tying up with local sellers there.
Fit to fight
“When you are starting up, it is not about money but creating values that can change the world,” hearing this from 19-yearold Harsh Songra, surprisingly reflects on his early understanding of doing business. The Bhopal teen suffered from delayed motor coordination (a kind of developmental disorder that affects coordination and movement) at a very early age but it took his parents nine years to diagnose it because they simply weren’t aware of it.
Although Songra has recovered now, his hand still shakes a bit. This experience led him to create My Child app, which was launched in January this year. The app allows parents to detect learning disorders in kids early between 11 and 24 months in just around 45 seconds and suggests the preventive action to be taken in time with specialist doctors.
“There is a huge lack of awareness about different development disorders,” says Songra who overcame his problem with the passion he had to save other children and make their parents aware early. Currently, pursuing BCA from Bhopal School of Social Sciences, Songra has even got serial entrepreneur and tech evangelists of Indian startups, Ravi Gururaj, as its mentor.
Songra last month claimed to fame when Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg praised him for the innovative idea. “We’re supporting developers like Harsh who have great ideas but can’t always access the resources they need,” said Sandberg in her post.
Songra has got support for the back-end development of the app for up to 20 million users through a Facebook programme.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (October, 2015 Issue).