Alumna finds success with one-for-one charity she started as a student

February 16, 2015
By Bill Krueger

Before 2012, Jessica Ekstrom’s college experience mirrored that of any other student. She spent her time at NC State doing homework, studying late into the night, securing summer internships and balancing her social life. However, her junior year, she decided to launch a successful one-for-one charity, now known as Headbands of Hope.

Ekstrom got the idea for Headbands of Hope while working with Make-A-Wish at the age of 19. She noticed that young girls who lost their hair from chemotherapy treatments did not like to wear wigs, but still wanted a way to express their feminine identities. Ekstrom settled on headbands, and came up with a compelling business model: for every headband sold, one is donated to a girl who has lost her hair and one dollar is given to cancer research.

headbandsBringing this idea to fruition would be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a full time student — but Ekstrom decided to focus on turning her weaknesses into strengths.

“I would argue that running a business as a college student is a benefit,” she says. “I had professors, technology, and a student body at my disposal to give me all the help I needed.”

Ekstrom took full advantage of these resources, meeting with professors at the Poole College of Management to create a business plan and College of Textiles faculty and students to talk manufacturing, materials, and logistics. Once the project was up and running, she was even able to use it as a learning platform, citing Headbands of Hope for projects and internship credit.

“Preparing to launch this business at NC State taught me responsible thinking and the importance of taking action,” she says. “My learning wasn’t limited to the classroom.”

Ekstrom graduated in 2013 with a degree in communications and now runs Headbands of Hope full-time out of Raleigh, working with charities like St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and CURE Childhood Cancer. Customers can choose from a growing variety of headband styles and, following purchase, pick which charity to send their money to.

Ekstrom and her team have delivered headbands to over 300 hospitals in the United States and internationally. As of today, the company has sold 35,000 headbands and donated $35,000 to charity.

Headbands of Hope continues to grow at a fast rate. According to Ekstrom, the outfit grew about 120% between the years of 2013 and 2014, and she only expects this pace to pick up. Headbands of Hope been featured on the Today Show and in publications such as Forbes, Vanity Fair, Seventeen, Fitness, and Entrepreneur.

—Jenna Calderone


One Response to “Alumna finds success with one-for-one charity she started as a student”

  1. Mindy Sopher says:

    So nice to see you continue to feature our rock star alumni and students!
    An important UPDATE on Jess Ekstrom is her first book, published recently:

    “THE FRESHMAN FABULOUS: The Girls Guide to College”

    where she both inspires and encourages young women to prepare, work hard, enjoy and succeed – in a THINK AND DO sort of way. She, of course, mentions her great experiences at NC State and provides some reflection and reflection space in the book to help the reader on their path to make a difference. I enjoyed and respect the effort so much so that I recommended it to our First Year College Advisors, for use with their students. You will see it on many of our desks now, with WOLFPACK PRIDE and hopes that many advisees will follow Jess Ekstrom’s lead: taking advantage of all NC State has to offer, succeeding in their efforts, and continuing to make a change for the better in our world.

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