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.
“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.