High school friends Zermina “Nina” Velic and Belma Ahmetovic are no longer chasing the American dream of owning a business.
The two 17-year-old immigrants from Bosnia have already achieved that success and secured an opportunity to meet President Barack Obama after their company, Beta Bytes, placed second last month in a national business plan competition for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Beta Bytes, the foreign language and cultural-based computer repair service Velic and Ahmetovic started through a Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) program at their high school, will also receive $5,000.
The Hartford teens plan to use part of the prize money on their business and use the rest to help kids in Bosnia, where “they can’t afford pens, paper, let alone laptops,” said Velic.
After Beta Bytes won first place in the NFTE New England’s regional competition in May, the Hartford business became one of 31 finalists to compete in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge
The competition required Velic and Ahmetovic to develop and present an original business plan, receive hands-on training in launching a business and learn the real-world relevance of math, reading and writing to their business.
“These girls personify what this program is all about,” says Jennifer Green, program director for NFTE New England. “They combined their drive and ability with the academic training to create a solution where there was an identifiable gap in the marketplace. They saw an opportunity and put a lot of heart and dedication into building a business to serve that need.”
Scientific research by Harvard University has shown that youth who learn entrepreneurship are more likely to focus on academics and develop leadership aspirations, according to officials at NFTE, which has helped more than 7,000 kids since it opened in 1991.
The organization currently offers seven entrepreneurial courses to 150 students in Connecticut high schools, according to Green.
Beta Bytes offers computer repair services in their native language at a price lower than major companies and only serve family and friends on a limited basis, said Velic, who hopes to grow the business to serve the entire 15,000-person Bosnian community in the Greater Hartford region.
The business-savvy teens discovered many of their neighbors were having difficulties getting their computers fixed because of a language barrier. Beta Bytes strives to break the language and cultural barriers between potential customers and computer assistance by providing culturally sensitive computer repair and related services.
Eventually the pair would like to expand the business by focusing on customers in the Albanian and Latino markets. While word-of-mouth advertising has helped grow the business, the girls plan to advertise on Bosnian radio and community television channels.
Velic and Ahmetovic have relied on a shared family background — both their parents fled war-torn Bosnia when the girls were infants — and an interest in technology to build Beta Bytes into a successful computer repair service.
After they graduate from Hartford’s Sport and Medical Science Academy next year, Velic and Ahmetovic hope to attend the University of Connecticut.
Founded in 1987, NFTE is a nonprofit group that provides entrepreneurship programs to students in low-income areas. The NFTE supports active programs in 21 states and 10 other countries, according to Green.