How to Be a Philanthropic Entrepreneur: Headbands of Hope’s Jess Ekstrom Tells Us How

headbands for hope

Jess Ekstrom is amazing, which is probably why we had her write a guest post for us. In that post she talks about how a summer internship at the Make-a-Wish Foundation changed her life and led to her starting her very own charity, Headbands for Hope.

“That’s exactly what entrepreneurship is: Finding an itch, and creating a scratch.”

And since, let’s face it, starting your own charity is pretty major, we wanted to find out from Jess not only why she did it but how she did it.

LABG: So Jess, what is Headbands of Hope and how did it come about?

JESS: For every headband sold, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to fund childhood cancer research.

It all started during the summer of 2011 when I did an internship at a wish-granting organization for children with illnesses. I found that girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs after losing their hair to treatment. There were no organizations that provided headbands to kids so I founded during my junior year of college in 2012.

headbands for hope

LABG: What was the first step you took on your entrepreneurial journey?

JESS: I was studying communications at North Carolina State University and I knew nothing about starting a business. But being a college student provided me with so many resources to start my company. I met with business professors to create a business plan; textile professors to design and manufacture a product; graphic design students to create a logo and website. Little by little, my company grew to life. By the time I graduated in May 2013, it was my full-time job and growing every day!

LABG: What have been the biggest rewards?

JESS: For a while I focused on the tangible rewards of having a company: profits, press, followers etc. But I realized all of that was growing but yet it didn’t make me feel fulfilled. Sometimes when you work so hard to create something, you lose site of why you started. Now I focus more on the impact and the smiles we put on kids’ faces in the hospitals. One moment when you know all of your hard work made a child’s day brighter makes everything worth it.

LABG: What have been the biggest challenges?

JESS: As an entrepreneur, you’re never “off the clock.” There’s always work you could be doing no matter the day or the hour. It has been a challenge to me to try to disconnect and unplug sometimes. I love my job and I love what I do, but when I’m spending time with family or trying to relax it’s hard not to think about work. I developed a rule that’s “no email after 8 pm” and I’m trying to cut back on weekends!

LABG: You’ve gotten so much great press, it’s very imPRESSive! What steps did you take to get your initiative so much visibility? 

JESS: I think what’s made us attractive to the media is not necessarily our product but our story. Yes, we have cute headbands but it’s not about what we sell it’s about why we sell it. It’s

unfortunate that so many people in the world have some kind of connection to cancer. However, our product gives them an avenue to contribute to the cause and see tangible results.

headbands for hope

LABG: What impact has Headbands of Hope had thus far?

JESS: We’re very close to donating to every single children’s hospital in the United States! But we try not to focus on the number we’ve donated but rather the people. One girl was fifteen and I gave her a headband at UNC Children’s hospital and spent some time with her. About a week later we got a call from her mom that her daughter had passed away, but she wanted those same headbands she got in the hospital for every female in her family to wear to her service the next day because it meant so much to her.

Whenever I get stressed or I feel like I have “problems,” I think about her and this story and I’m reminded of why I started and the impact we make.

LABG: What advice would you have for other young entrepreneurial women?

JESS: Don’t overthink it. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from a book called Rework and it said entrepreneurship is like having an itch. What do you do when you have an itch? You scratch it. That’s exactly what entrepreneurship is: Finding an itch, and creating a scratch. It doesn’t have to be all of these intense and complex ideas and solutions. Figure out what you’re passionate about. Look for a need. Then create a way to fix it.

We could say luckily Headbands for Hope found an itch and scratched it. But Headbands for Hope found an itch, a charitable niche, not because of luck but because a young woman saw that itch and niche and then made it happen. It wasn’t luck; it was Jess!

Learn more about Jess and Headbands for Hope here: