Jessica Ekstrom is the founder of Headbands of Hope, which distributes headbands & headwear to children with cancer across the nation. Headbands of Hope began as an effort to raise the self-esteem of girls in the hospital while restoring their sense of hope, and Jessica’s mission is to raise awareness around childhood cancer, and ultimately find a cure. She’s a new member at HQ and was recently interviewed for a feature on the Today Show — we asked her a few questions so our community can get to know each other a little better!
1. Do you have any nicknames? Everyone calls me Headbands! I sometimes think people don’t even know my first name…
2. If you could travel to any point in time, where would you go and why? I’d like to go to 1972 and talk to Katherine Graham when she became the first woman to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company- The Washington Post. We’ve come so far with women having power in the workplace. I’d like to talk to her to see where it really began.
3. Here at HQ Raleigh, one of our Core Values is “Empower Others.” What do you do on a day-to-day basis to live out that value? With Headbands of Hope, we give headbands to girls fighting cancer nationwide (and now internationally). Our headbands are really the definition of empowerment. Our hope is that it gives them a chance to feel like a normal kid again, with or without hair. We want our headbands to be the ultimate symbol of self-acceptance for girls and women everywhere.
4. What piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? Just look around you. Ideas don’t just fall into your lap when you’re sitting there. Inspiration comes from steady observation of a community around you.
We can think of entrepreneurship as some fancy word that sounds like a members-only club. Or, we can think of it as being a problem solver. Find a problem, or find a gap or need in a community, then find a way to fix it.
But whatever your project is, go for it and don’t look back! I started my company in college when I was just about to turn 20. Now, over two years later, I look back and I’m so grateful I had the courage and support to just pour everything I had in and make Headbands of Hope what it is today. If I started the company and let myself get consumed with doubts, then my hesitations would have turned detrimental to my company.
5. What do you enjoy most about what you do? Every action I take, no matter if it’s answering an email, taking product photos, or doing financial spreadsheets, all come full circle and help a girl get a headband. That’s what I love about what I do. Work doesn’t feel like work when you know all of your hours and effort has a purpose. One of my favorite quotes is by Richard Branson, “I don’t think of work as work and play as play, it’s all just living.”
Think about how much we spend of our lives working. Do we really want our work to be so separate from our “pleasures” in life? One of the biggest turning points in my professional career is when I made the decision to stop separating my work and my play, it’s all just life.
6. What is one thing you hope to accomplish this year (personal or professional)? I’m going to Peru in August to hike the Incan Trial to Manchu Picchu. That will be an accomplishment for sure!
7. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? First off, my coffee would be brewed with little gold flakes in it (just kidding…but that would be cool). Over the past year since I graduated, I’ve been speaking for an agency called CAMPUSPEAK. I’ve visited dozens of campuses and have spoken to thousands of college students across the US about taking action. My perfect day would be speaking at a school, visiting their local children’s hospital, then spending time with the people I love!
8. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? When I was in college, I planned to study abroad in Spain. The summer before I was supposed to go, I interned for Make-A-Wish and got the idea for Headbands of Hope. I had all of this money saved up to go to Spain, but I knew I wouldn’t have the same passion to start HoH 6 months from then when I returned. I made the decision to invest that money into my company instead of traveling. Best decision I’ve ever made, but I’d still like to travel and see the world. With my Peru trip coming up, I’m finally starting to do that!
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? I have an incredible family, but my dad has been a huge influence on me. He quit his job when I was 13 to start a company he envisioned. I saw him pour everything he had into an idea and make it come to life. Therefore, when I was inspired, I had a role model to show me the ropes. He’s always made me feel like I can do anything I believe in…so I did!
10. Favorite movie quote?
“I do not associate with people who blame the world for their problems. You’re your problem, but you’re also your solution.” – Megan, Bridesmaids