Frugal Teen’s Money-Saving Idea A Contender In Business Competition

By Jeff Parrott
The Elkhart Truth, Ind.

Cleaning up kitchen spills with paper towels might be quick and easy, but it’s also a waste of money and paper, according to Elkhart teen Samantha Shank.

The 15-year-old’s passion for frugality inspired “The Retowel,” her winning entry in this year’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy contest sponsored by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

She sews a piece of flannel to a piece of terry cloth, and can personalize and customize designs. She also can insert buttons so that the Retowel can attach to paper towel racks.

“It pretty much can do anything a paper towel can do,” Samantha said. “When you’re done using them you can throw them in the washer and dryer.”

Samantha and eight other YEA participants will display their products from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at Concord Mall’s center court. Samantha will then go to Boca Raton, Fla., on May 16 for a regional competition, and if she places first or second there, she’ll travel to Washington, D.C,. for the finals. A victory there would net her lots of college scholarship money and an appearance on “Shark Tank,” the ABC TV show that pits aspiring entrepreneurs against one another.

“Samantha’s got a really good product and when she presents it, she talks about it really well,” said Kathy Cardwell, chamber vice president of administration and YEA program manager, who’s also making the Florida trip. “I’m excited. I just have a feeling. I think she’ll do really well.”

Samantha named her company “The Parsi Company,” after the word “parsimony,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality of being very unwilling to spend money.”

“She’s all about saving money and cutting coupons,” said her father, Elkhart firefighter Phillip Shank. He said he and his wife, Dara, who adopted Samantha from China when she was 6 months old, are “extremely proud of her.”

The YEA was founded in 2004 in Rochester, N.Y., and the Elkhart chamber began its program three years ago, the first in Indiana.

Students have been meeting weekly since October at the Elkhart Area Career Center. They are matched with mentors and hear guest speakers talk about everything from accounting and graphic design to taxation, insurance and marketing.

Other local students’ products include a winter driving kit for teens, make-up pouches, curtain tie-backs, a video game mobile application, and recycled dresses.

Samantha said she hopes to study business in college, and making a career out of The Parsi Company is her “ultimate goal.” She is considering developing reusable sandwich bags and napkins next.

“I think this could really be a product that changes America,” she said. “This product is usable and eco-friendly.”

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