Young entrepreneur is on a mission to succeed


Jalen Ponder

Jalen Ponder is just 21 years old. He has accomplished a lot since graduating from Hononegah Community High School in 2020. Actually, his entrepreneurial skills kicked in when he was 13, and living with his family in Detroit, Michigan. “I wanted to help my family, financially, but was too young to go out and get a job.” He started buying items at the local Dollar Store and reselling them for $3.00. “I have had a life-long interest in making money and being successful,” he said.

One day, Jalen saw a hot dog truck, owned by Benjamin Welch. “I started helping him with posts on Facebook. He was a mentor and positive influence on me. He gave me a chance to prove myself.”

A few years later, his father decided Detroit was getting too dangerous and moved his family to the Stateline area. “The violence and drug problems in Detroit were getting bad. Too many of my friends were dying or were in prison.”

Jalen enrolled at Hononegah Community High School and worked at Pizza Fresca, a food truck business. Food trucks were just beginning to be popular at that time. “The owners were busy cooking and serving, and needed marketing and business help. I was able to fill the promotion role at Pizza Fresca.”

Jalen became involved with the INCubatoredu Entrepreneurial class at Hononegah. The program is now in its eighth year. Students create business models and learn marketing, business and financial skills. Area business men and women visit the classrooms, volunteering their expertise as mentors and coaches throughout the school year.

Jalen approached Jason Brunke, the career and business technology and INCubatoredu instructor, with a full Evendtor business plan in hand. “I was only a sophomore at the time, but I told him I was going to win the national competition.”

“Mr. Brunke taught me how to think. He has always been my cheerleader and coach.”

Jalen and partners Maggie Yoho and Jordan Diel fine-tuned the business plan, which pairs businesses with food truck vendors. They ended up winning third place in the national competition held in Texas.

Since that time, Evendtor has grown significantly. Jalen is the CEO. There are now 30 food trucks with a variety of products available. The target audience is birthday parties, graduations, Rockton River Market and corporate events.

Jalen is now a full-time student at Beloit College studying Quantitative Economics, which focuses on drawing conclusions from data. He has learned critical thinking and effective ways of communicating and presenting oneself. He has become a popular motivational speaker in the area, a business owner, and an entrepreneur.

Jalen went on to another venture in 2022. He opened a drive-in movie theater - The Drive 815. The seasonal outdoor movie theater is located at the Rockton Athletic Field on Old River Road in Rockton.

Activities, food and family movies are shown twice per month on Saturday evenings in the warmer months. It will soon be time to close for 2023.

Jalen has big plans for the future. Not surprising, one of his goals is to attend Harvard Business School to study finance and business law, and social sciences.

Another future goal is to eventually found a child development center in Detroit.

Whereever he goes, he carries a card with him listing his goals. “Once you figure out what you want to do, start planning.”

There is a sign in Mr. Brunke’s classroom that reads, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." That sign fits Jalen Ponder to a T.

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