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Entrepreneur of the Year: Carter Johnson parlayed a Penguin into XTREME success and a Top 100 award

Carter Johnson was born with a couple of famous names: Carter, as in her great-grandfather, the legendary Fort Worth newspaper publisher Amon Carter; and Johnson, as in her civic leader-philanthropist mother Sheila, daughter of civic leader, philanthropist and arts patron Ruth Carter Stevenson.

Some people might have embraced those names and found a way to coast through life. But Carter Johnson was also born with a bent for business and the heart of a survivor, assets that guided her through a series of personal setbacks and eventually led to her current entrepreneurial pursuit as president and CEO of XIT XTREME LLC, the company she formed to market her own invention – a product called the Penguin. The Business Press tracked her personal and professional journey in an in-depth profile last summer.

The Penguin is a blade-free tool designed to pry open the tops of blister packages for medication, sealed pill bottles and even those stubborn plastic tops on annoying containers like the mustard bottle you often struggle with while your hot dog grows cold. It’s available online (www.getapenguin.com) in three sizes, selling for $7.99, $8.99 and $9.99.

The device is called the Penguin because it looks like one. It fits into the palm of your hand and will literally open anything and everything, from packages and boxes to sealed containers. The Penguin’s most special asset: It’s not sharp; it will open but not cut. It debuted on the open market in August and it earned Johnson the Fort Worth Business Press’ 2021 Top 100 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Johnson has been promoting the Penguin with social media posts and videos, and a late fall Facebook post showing how useful the Penguin could be for opening a variety of items during the holidays chalked up more than 90,000 likes by late November.

The Penguin is an entrepreneurial marvel in more ways than one. Not only is it a creative and highly marketable product but Johnson launched it with an initial investment of about $5,000, much of it spent on patent and trademark filings. The eventual cost of getting the Penguin up and running for mass distribution is yet to be determined but by any measure XIT XTREME LLC was an X-tremely efficient startup.

Carter has several ideas for new products and is currently in the creative development phase with them. Her work is already getting noticed and next spring she will participate in a high-powered panel discussion at UT-Austin focusing on entrepreneurship.

She’s already cataloguing bits of wisdom for would-be entrepreneurs and the list starts with this: never sign anything while you are sitting at the negotiating table. Nothing disastrous has happened to her because of not taking enough time to understand specifics, Johnson says, but she admits to making a mistake or two.

“My point is, don’t get caught up in the moment, in the excitement of plans coming together when you have legal documents and other papers to sign,” she says. “Go home, wait, and make sure you know what you’re signing. Understand the commitments.”

Johnson graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in art history and she’s an accomplished photographer. Her work has been exhibited in New York as well as Fort Worth.

She has worked as a volunteer on many civic projects, served on several boards and created the most successful fundraiser in the history of the Museum of Science and History, “The Mad Scientist Ball,” which she directed from 2005 through 2015. She continues to serve on the museum’s board of trustees.

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