The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an international non-profit organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship among youth in low-income communities, announced last week the winners of the 2009 OppenheimerFunds/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The first-prize winner is Kalief Rollins, of Carson, California, who was chosen from among 24,000 entrants. Rollins received a cash prize of $10,000 for developing a business plan for Phree Kountry Clothing, a custom T-shirt company which he co-founded with his brother, Anthony. The 2009 Downy High School graduate is currently enrolled as a freshman at Los Angeles Southwest College.

Second-prize winner Zoe Damacela is a 17-year old senior at Whitney Young High School, which is located in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. She received a prize of $5,000 for her business plan for her line of custom-made clothing, which she labeled Zoe Damacela Apparel. On her involvement in the competition, she said, 'It was a really amazing experience, and I definitely think there should be more NFTE classes in more schools, because it opens so many doors and provides such an amazing opportunity.'

New Bedford, Massachusetts native Scott Paiva, who was a 2009 graduate of New Bedford High School and currently attends Suffolk University in Boston, is the third-prize winner. Paiva, 18, went home with $2,500 for creating a business plan for Express Tax Service, a tax preparation service for young people. 

The contestants were judged on their businesses plans and presentations by a panel of well-known leaders in the business world, including the CEO and founder of her self-named cosmetics line, Bobbi Brown.

All three of the top-prize winners will meet President Barack Obama at The White House later this month. Damacela, the Chicago native, said that all three winners were backstage when the announcement was made, and they had trouble concealing their excitement about meeting the president. 'Plus, Michelle Obama went to my high school, so I'm definitely excited to talk to her about that,' Damacela added.

Steve Mariotti, founder of NFTE, said, "This was the best year for the competition since its inception. Every student was in the A- range or above in terms of grade point average, and [there was] not one mistake with the numbers in any of their presentations."

Founded by Mariotti in 1987, the organization began by teaching students how to fund a business, and it has evolved into an important and highly regarded educational business venture for youth. His current role in NFTE is to set the organization's curriculum, and assist in fundraising, and he said he loves his work now more than ever before.