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Queens youths hailed as entrepreneurs

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Two Queens students have garnered awards for their entrepreneurial skills in Citizens Committee for New York City's Fleet Youth Entrepreneur Day, sponsored by Fleet Bank.

The grand prize winner is Hina Aqil, 17, a senior at Park West High School in Manhattan, who is from Briarwood. She runs her own business silk-screening T-shirts and mouse pads. She will receive a $2,500 college scholarship from the Fleet Student Loan Division.

Safiya Whitehead, just 13 and a student at John Bowne High School, won third place for her efforts to create and market an oversized bathing cap for people with voluminous hair. She lives in St. Albans.

With the help of family and school advisers, Aqil created Hina's Scanning Graphics. She scans an image (either words, logos or pictures) onto her computer, configures the image to her customer's specifications, and then has the image silk-screened onto T-shirts and mouse pads.

"I chose to be an entrepreneur because I like being in a leadership role," Aqil said. "I like to explore places, meet people and learn new things."

When Aqil started her business in August 1998, she created a business plan and used her savings for start-up capital. She started marketing her product by advertising in her school newspaper.

"Most of my customer heard by word of mouth, which is the best advertising for me," she said.

Aqil has about 50 customers and works summers, "but not during school, because I have too much work."

She sold more than 400 silk products for $10 to $15 each, making 60 percent of her sales on mouse pads, and 40 percent on the T-shirts, she said. At an initial start-up cost of $650, Aqil said her returns added up to more than 51 percent in profits.

Aqil said she "wanted to prove to society that girls are capable of doing anything as long as they put their minds to it. She has just been accepted to Babson College in Boston, the No. 1 entrepreneurship college in the country. She plans to start a web site to further sales of her products.

Whitehead, the third-prize winner, said she was surprised to place so high in the competition, but was grateful for the $750 grant she will receive.

"I've been swimming since I was a child, and I saw some people had a problem," she said, explaining how she got the idea for the special caps.

Marketed with the acronym WAYG for "Wear Are You Going," Whitehead said her swimming caps are unique, because they are made out of special woven fibers called Darlex instead of latex. The caps are ideal for people with dreadlocks, long hair or "permed" hair.

Fleet Youth Entrepreneur Day recognizes the creativity and initiative of 20 young entrepreneurs between the ages of 13 and 22, from all five boroughs of New York City. Winners receive cash grants and showcase their products and services at the Fleet Youth Entrepreneur Day Exposition.

An awards ceremony will start Thursday, March 30, at 8 a.m. at the Baruch College Conference Center at 151 East 25th St., 7th Floor. Fleet Youth Entrepreneur Day Exposition will follow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the 26th Street Lexington Avenue Armory in Manhattan.

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