During the summer of 2011, Jess Ekstrom participated in an internship at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses. She discovered that a lot of kids losing their hair to chemotherapy loved to wear headbands after hair loss, but they were only given wigs and hats.
Armed with inspiration, she spent her junior year at North Carolina State University developing her company, Headbands of Hope. For every item sold, a headband is given to a child with cancer. By the time she graduated, she had donated thousands of headbands to kids with cancer and was elected to give the commencement speech at her graduation to 20,000 people.
Along with her business, her message started to spread across America. Jess speaks over 40 times a year to campuses, corporations and conferences. She's keynoted at Leadercast Live, SAS Global Forum, Women's Business Summit, Citrix and more. Jess focuses on increasing workplace engagement and employee empowerment through meaningful work and establishing a healthy relationship with failure.
Today, Headbands of Hope is in over 2,000 stores across the United States and Canada. They've been featured on the TODAY Show, Forbes, Seventeen, Vanity Fair, People Magazine, Good Morning America and the headbands have been worn and supported by celebrities such as Lauren Conrad, Lea Michele, Molly Sims, Tiffani Thiessen and more. But their biggest accomplishment has been donating over 200,000 headbands to every children's hospital in America and across 15 countries.
In the past year, the company has launched impact initiatives such as hosting proms at children's hospitals and starting their #BandTogether program where they partner with a childhood cancer charity and donate proceeds from sales to their mission. They've also joined hands with art therapy by having the patients create their own headbands with the flower crown kits they provide.
Jess was named the Women's Health Magazine Ultimate Game Changer in 2017 and was also honored as the Most Outstanding Alumni of NC State University. In 2017 she also received the 'Entrepreneur of the Year' award from Atlantic BT. A Huffington Post article named her a limit breaking female founder. She also serves on the board of District C to help high school students solve real world problems and she regularly visits prisons to help inmates get jobs.
Jess is also a professional speaker, writer for Entrepreneur and founder of Weekly Wink (a positivity email sent every Wednesday). She's also the founder of Mic Drop Workshop, an online course with the mission of empowering more women to share their message as a speaker.
Inspire, Not Require
Has community service become a requirement? Something we have to do to please those evaluating us? From college applications to campus awards, so many students are engaging in service projects within their organizations. But, are they really making the connection to the good work they are doing?
In this keynote, Jess Ekstrom encourages student leaders to “redefine philanthropy” from a requirement to a lifestyle. “We’re so worried about crossing philanthropy and service requirements off our list that we forget the purpose behind it. We forget to feel the passion.”
Jess uses examples from her own development as a student leader and philanthropic professional. As founder of Headbands of Hope, she has learned the amazing power of service – changing thousands of children’s lives. She understands that service often means doing grunt work, but she knows how a connection to those who are served makes all of it extremely worthwhile.
If students at your campus need to make a stronger connection between their service activities and the ethics of service, this program will open their eyes and hearts. If you are planning a large campus service event (dance marathon, Relay for Life, etc.), Jess will get your coordinators better equipped to communicate the crucial messages to other students.
The Real Story: What's Behind our Perfect Profiles
When Jess first started her company, Headbands of Hope, as a college student, she had a rough start. She wired $10k (of all the money she had) and a loan from her dad, to a manufacturer for her first round of production. After the money was wired, she never heard from them again and the money disappeared. She thought about giving up, but realized she believed in the business too much to let it go before it began. She brushed herself off, got a $300 grant from her university, and created a million- dollar company that has impacted hundreds of thousands of kids with cancer.
Jess was discouraged in the beginning when she saw other people’s success stories on social media or in articles. She thought, ‘why is it so easy for them and so hard for me?’ She didn’t understand why she was running into so many hurdles and didn’t feel like anyone else was until her mom forwarded an article from the founder of Airbnb. He leaked five investor rejection emails who passed on the opportunity to get in early on Airbnb. The emails showed rejection after rejection, stating the potential market opportunity isn’t big enough or they just flat out weren’t interested. Airbnb is now a $31 billion-dollar company. The article showed Jess that it wasn’t just an ‘aha’ moment that exploded overnight into a household name (which is how a lot of people paint their story). In fact, each failure made her stronger. When people are honest and disclose the real story about their start before their success, it humanizes the hustle.
You don’t have to graduate from a top school or have years of high-level experience to do great things. You can make mistakes (big ones, too) and still make it. But when we pretend it’s smooth sailing or blame our success to luck or being in the right place at the right time, it paints a false picture that can make people turn around at the first sign of adversity. This keynote will tell an honest tale of Jess and others who went for their dreams, whether that’s starting a business, getting your dream job, running a race, or becoming the school mascot. Students will learn to humanize the success by honoring the struggle.
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