Downey grad wins national business plan competition

DOWNEY - For Kalief Rollins, business couldn't be better.At the age of 17, Rollins and his custom T-shirts have already been featured on national television and radio. He's met with President Obama in the Oval Office and now has $10,000 to both market and distribute his inspirational designs. "I felt blessed to go to the White House," said Rollins. "He [Obama] told me to keep up the good work - he said he was proud of me." With the help of his 22-year-old brother Anthony, Rollins used his T-shirt business to beat out nearly 24, 000 other students who entered the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). But long before claiming the grand prize at the competition in New York City earlier this month, Rollins was just another Downey High School student in Jeanette Hernandez's entrepreneurship class. "He didn't really stand out in class - Kalief is not a talkative person so I didn't notice anything specific," said Hernandez, 28. "But he was very interested in competing. He's a very talented young man. I'm excited for the possibilities." In Hernandez' class, each student was required to draft a business plan. The top three class presentations would be submitted to the regional competition in Los Angeles. Rollins decided to create a plan for his T-shirt business, Phree Kountry Clothing. "Everyone that knows me knows that I have an entrepreneurial spirit," said Rollins, who graduated in June. "The idea came from my brother. He's always been an artist." After winning the regional competition in May, Rollins represented Southern California in New York among 27 other finalists from around the country. Rollins' custom shirts that feature positive messages proved to be a success among the judges. "It's overwhelming," said Rollins over the phone. "I'm very blessed at such a young age to be able to fulfill my dream." Estelle Reyes, Acting Executive Director for NFTE Greater Los Angeles, believes students like Kalief are an example of what education can do. "Our mission is to teach entrepreneurship," said Reyes. "Higher education produces more focus and more power - that's our goal." Since 1987, NFTE has worked with more than 280,000 students in low-income communities teaching entrepreneurial skills. Hernandez is looking forward to helping other students follow in Rollins' footsteps, but she hopes to receive some help from the business community. "If they want to see the start of another Kalief, they can come in here and be judges - coaches for these students." The last time Hernandez saw Rollins, he sold her a shirt for $20. "He kept asking me, "When are you going to buy a shirt?," said Hernandez with a laugh. "It would have been good to get one for free, but he's only getting more popular." Today, Rollins, now a freshman at Los Angeles Southwest College, encourages other students to pursue their dreams in spite of opposition. "Keep going forward - never give up," said Rollins. "Stay focused - what ever your business is, keep working towards your goal. I'm on my way to achieving my goal."

********** Published: October 30, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 28

FeaturesEric Pierce