“It’s education only that can bring people up from poverty,” says Srikanth Kodeboyina. Born to farmers in India, the CEO of Blue Eye Soft came to the United States in 2010 for graduate school, an early instance of the reinvention that has come to characterize him. From rural origins to consultant to Fortune 100 businesses and leader of companies valued in the millions, he continues to exceed his parents’ expectations.
After enlisting in the US Army Reserves in 2016, he got American citizenship, and that status allowed him to establish Blue Eye Soft, an AI-powered healthcare startup that has since morphed into 3 companies: Blue Space, Blue Doc AI, and SCIT/USISS.
But when we first met Kodeboyina, he was still establishing Blue Eye Soft, a pre-seed venture that joined the 2020 cohort of Apex, NYU Tandon Veterans Future Lab’s business incubator for military veterans and military spouses. Typically an in-person program in New York City, Apex moved online when the pandemic struck. The disruption was mirrored everywhere, and Blue Eye Soft was no exception. The contract that the company had secured with the federal government before the pandemic stalled, so Kodeboyina pivoted by licensing technology from the University of Dayton Research Institute. He and his team improved the tech — medical diagnostic software that can detect COVID-19 from chest x-rays with 98% accuracy — so that it can now be applied to a range of diseases. That move spawned Blue Doc AI, along with a host of positive changes that find Kodeboyina once again reimagining his trajectory as an entrepreneur.
We spoke with him recently to discover the latest developments in the fast-moving transformation of Blue Eye Soft and to find out what entrepreneurs — aspiring and veteran alike — can learn from Kodeboyina’s reinventions.
My parents can’t read or write, but they taught me that education can change lives. — Srikanth Kodeboyina
VFL: You finished your training at the US Army Medical Center of Excellence in Texas earlier this year. How has your military experience influenced your entrepreneurship?
SK: The beautiful thing about the Army is that it’s so disciplined and team-minded. In the civilian corporate world, that may not be the case, but in the Army, even if you don’t know who the person standing next to you is, if he’s a part of your unit, you take care of him. That’s a great motivating force.
And you work 18 hours a day with 4 hours of sleep. All of those things — the resilience you learn, working with limited resources, thinking very far ahead — groom you and train you to be a leader.
VFL: You mention resources, which you’ve done a fantastic job of assembling in South Carolina, where you’re based, and beyond. What recommendations do you have for entrepreneurs seeking similar support?
SK: As an entrepreneur, your skill set comes from capturing all the resources available. Play every card you have […] There’s infrastructure to support you here. Policies and systems are designed in such a way that anybody can build anything. It’s up to you to use them.
For example, there’s the Export-Import Bank, SBA, SBDC. From 2017 to 2019, I used every single resource, starting with the local chamber of commerce. Every state has some sort of resource available. You need to ask the right questions and see how you can get help. If you ask people, they’ll help. If you don’t, you’ll never get anything.
You want to create a company where they all feel they’re taking the same risk as you. If you cultivate the right attitude with the team, they’ll know you’re all at the same level of risk and say, ‘Let me give it my best.’— Srikanth Kodeboyina
VFL: So you recommend not being shy about asking questions.
SK: Yeah, you have to ask. Some might think you’re dumb; some might call you an opportunist. Some might call you selfish, but you have to take care of yourself. In my business, I got every opportunity because America is a land of opportunity.
VFL: What opportunities did Apex present?
SK: Grant Fox [then Director of the VFL] was at a speaking engagement, and I looked up what resources the VFL had. [Apex at the time paid] for your residence. You get an office. It’s quite a good program.
Grant connected me to resources, to Barclays, and we wanted to work with NYU Langone. The name and branding, free resources, $400k in in-kind services, connections to other entrepreneurs, strong AI team. And raising money in New York is super cool. You can’t do that in South Carolina.
You can take advantage of the program and build relationships — I used every resource [Apex] had. After the pandemic, maybe I’ll apply again under one of the other companies!
VFL: Good idea! And that’s right — you attended the Barclays Brain Trust. What did you get out of that?
SK: Oh, my goodness. The support you get from them. Those two hours were very motivating, and we formed strong connections. I used to work in banking, and to have a global leader listen to your story, give advice, share their personal information . . . that was brilliant. I enjoyed that thoroughly. It was so exciting.
The name and branding, free resources, $400k in in-kind services, connections to other entrepreneurs, strong AI team. And raising money in New York is super cool. You can’t do that in South Carolina. — Srikanth Kodeboyina
VFL: You landed in Greer, South Carolina, a city of 33,000. How does the location play into your companies’ growth?
SK: I traveled to 46 states before I picked South Carolina. Everybody in the country is retiring here because it’s inexpensive. My thought was, “Why should I wait to retire to come live here?” Atlanta is 2 hours away, Charlotte is an hour and a half away, and Greer is in between. No tech here, but I can fly anywhere I want. I’m minutes from the airport, but recruiting for the companies is a challenge. When I tell candidates that they have to relocate here, they ask, “But if I lose the job, then what?” But if I’m really sticking to my vision, then the candidate would be here for the next 3 years. If they seem like they’d only stick around for a year and don’t believe in the companies’ mission, then it’s not worth it to hire someone like that.
So, because I couldn’t really find the talent here, I started a university called SC IT. We’re on phase 2 of the application process for it. If we can offer kids who are in poverty an education and create apprenticeship programs, that’s what we want. My parents can’t read or write, but they taught me that education can change lives.
Have a life plan before you have a business plan. What do you want your finances to look like, your family, your health, your career? Those are the 4 wheels of your life. If you only have 1 wheel — business success — and you neglect the other 3, doesn’t matter. Success doesn’t just come with the company you build. — Srikanth Kodeboyina
VFL: Certainly, but entrepreneurship can be lonely too. Where do you find community and support?
SK: There’s a lot of personal life sacrificed. There were days when I slept in my office. I maxed out all my credit cards. I made sure employees were paid before I was. That’s a rough journey. Because I was alone and single, I could do it, but [you should] work with advisors and build a strong relationship with your team. You want to create a company where they all think they’re taking the same risk as you. If you cultivate the right attitude with the team, they’ll know you’re all at the same level of risk and say, ‘Let me give it my best.’
VFL: What mindset, hack, or tool would you recommend to ease the journey for other entrepreneurs?
SK: Have a life plan before you have a business plan. What do you want your finances to look like, your family, your health, your career? Those are the 4 wheels of your life. If you only have 1 wheel — business success — and you neglect the other 3, doesn’t matter. Success doesn’t just come with the company you build.