Student entrepreneur sets a high bar at Beloit & Beyond

Jalen Ponder’24 is a motivational speaker, an experienced entrepreneur, and a business owner at age 19. He shared some tips with fellow students at a Beloit & Beyond presentation, a day set aside to celebrate and raise awareness of student experiences outside the classroom.

Jalen Ponder’24 carries a card in his wallet with his goals written on it. That small piece of paper speaks to the kind of steely determination and practical wisdom he brings to everything he does.

His campus presentation on goal setting was scheduled in an early morning slot during Beloit’s inaugural Beloit & Beyond event in November.

The conference-style event allows students to demonstrate what they’ve learned during internships, job shadowing, volunteering, off-campus study, and other activities outside the classroom. Everyone steps back from the day-to-day (classes are cancelled) to network and learn about programs designed to help students launch meaningful careers.

At 9 a.m., a full audience was present to hear Ponder’s presentation about the importance of setting goals, what goals mean, and how best to achieve them.

And he should know, though he’s the first to say that his goals have changed and evolved — and that’s exactly what goals should do.

Jalen Ponder'24 presents an early morning goal-setting session at Beloit & Beyond. Jalen Ponder’24 presents an early morning goal-setting session at Beloit & Beyond.
Credit: Todd Anderbyrne

He recounted how he started out with a very simple one: to make money. At age 11, he started buying items at the Dollar Store and selling them for $3.

A full-time student, he is also currently running a successful business called Evendtor, which connects food trucks with host venues. But the journey to where he is now was far from easy.

He briefly talked about his past, when at a young age, he fell into a crowd of friends who were selling drugs and involved in a downward spiral of violence. He was part of it until one of his friends was shot.

This trauma reset his path. He says he dedicated himself to God and the well-being of others, but his interests in making money and building a successful enterprise stayed strong.

Jalen Ponder'24 talks with Executive-in-Residence Tim Leslie'89 at CELEB, Beloit's entrep... Jalen Ponder’24 talks with Executive-in-Residence Tim Leslie'89 at CELEB, Beloit's entrepreneurship center.
Credit: Nicolas Doret’24
While he was speaking, the audience may have needed a reminder that Ponder, wearing a button-down with a tie and exuding poise, is still a student, and a younger one at that. He is both a student in the traditional sense at Beloit and a student of the world who has dedicated himself to studying the paths of other successful people.

One of many examples he mentioned is Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins, who set out with the goal of writing one great sentence a day.

This is what he came to share with fellow students at Beloit and Beyond: his formula for successful goal-setting.

His first point was that a goal is not an object, but what the object stands for. He cited a $5,000 goal, for example, which is meaningful only if it allows him to buy a used car for his mother, so she can get to work more quickly than walking. This buys him peace of mind and, more importantly, time to spend with her. He emphasized the importance of emotional ties to a goal like this.

He also talked about timing and resisting the lure of procrastination. His advice was that people who are setting goals should honestly question themselves about things like availability of resources, obstacles they’re up against, and the individuals they need around them to get where they want to go. He said he came to Beloit in part because he knew he’d be surrounded by so many smart and inspiring people.

Yet even with a goal-setting formula, Ponder said the most intimidating hurdle is the very first one: making that initial move to get a venture started.

“You have to go for it,” he told students. “So many people do not take the first step.”

Demonstrating his motivational speaking chops, he closed by adding that there is no time like the present. He encouraged students and faculty in the audience to ask themselves what they want to do in the future and start making headway on it today.

“Your goal is not the end product,” he said. “It’s about who you become as you’re achieving your goals.”

By: Susan Kasten
December 01, 2021

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