Kalief Rollins usually shows off his company’s T-shirts to his neighbors in Carson or to his classmates at El Camino College and at his alma mater Downey High School.

But last month, the 17-year-old aspiring entrepreneur got to display his shirts with their inspirational messages to President Barack Obama in the White House Oval Office.

Rollins was invited to meet Obama after winning first place in the 2009 OppenheimerFunds/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, an annual business plan competition organized by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

“I was just speechless, and can just tell you how blessed I feel,” said Rollins “It just feels so good to have someone inspirational like the president look you in the eye and tell you that they are proud of you.”

Rollins won for his business plan for his T-shirt company, which he is in the process of renaming. One T-shirt features the word “Hope” with President Obama’s image. Another has a caution sign reading “Educated African American Male.” His brother and mother help him with production and finances.

“I’ve always wanted to be the owner of my own business,” said Rollins, who started by hawking candy in school when he was 7. “I’m going to pursue the T-shirt company, but if that doesn’t work out, I’ll just find another to start.”

And Rollins is already thinking like a businessman with the $10,000 prize that came with the first-place award. He’s going to use it to buy a silk-screening machine and put the rest back into the business.

Banking on Philanthropy

Skid Row isn’t exactly the kind of place that brings out big corporate names.

But Vikram Pandit, chief executive of banking giant Citigroup and one of the central figures in the global financial services industry, came to Los Angeles last week precisely to visit the blighted neighborhood.

The Skid Row Housing Trust, a downtown non-profit, hosted Pandit and local leaders such as Councilwoman Jan Perry for a tour of the newly opened Abbey Apartments, a housing development for homeless people funded in part by donations from Citi.

In an interview with the Business Journal, Pandit said he’s been visiting the bank’s major markets and surveying the economic damage from the recent recession.

“We’ve had an eventful 18 months,” said the executive, who has been under fire after the federal bailout for financial firms.

It’s been a year since Pandit visited the City of Angels, and his previous tours have been a bit more glamorous. But he wasn’t disappointed by his stop in Skid Row.

“It’s really quite gratifying to see the success of what we’ve been able to help finance over the years,” he said.

Staff reporters Francisco Vara-Orta and Richard Clough contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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