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Jess Ekstrom

Jess Ekstrom is the founder of Headbands of Hope

Jess Ekstrom is the inspiring founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope, an accessories brand where for every item sold, a headband is donated to a child battling cancer.

Jess launched Headbands of Hope in 2012, when she was a senior in North Carolina State University. The idea came to her while interning at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After planning a Make-A-Wish princess trip to Disney World, Jess found out that Renee, the little girl who was supposed to get the trip, had gotten too sick to travel -- so Jess decided to take a little bit of Disney World to her: she dressed as a princess and surprised Renee at the hospital.

In the hospital Jess noticed how a lot of the girls battling cancer were wearing headbands, she explained of her experience: “I saw that Renee and the other little girls wore headbands, it was something so simple that made such a great impact on their confidence.”

Since starting from her dorm room, Jess has donated more than 100,000 headbands (!) to children battling cancer.

Jess also penned an insightful article for on why college is the perfect time to launch a business. Among the many reasons Jess cited, is the fact that in college one has unparalleled access to experts in different fields: "When you're on a college campus, professors are filled with knowledge and experience to help you. The free consulting I got from professors answered all the questions I had about starting a business and taking my first steps."

Last year Jess published her second book, Chasing the Bright Side, where she shares her journey into entrepreneurship and the importance of optimism and mindset in her life. She shares how optimism helped her overcome many of the challenges she had to face, even sharing a personal story on what happened when her family got caught up in her Great Uncle Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Her vulnerability and candidness is so inspiring and truly proves the power optimism and mindset can have in our lives

We had the pleasure of asking some questions to Jess:

What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome when starting Headbands of Hope?

When I first got started, I was working with this manufacturer in Kentucky that ended up being fraudulent. Long story short, I had a loan from a family member for my first round of production. I wired the money to the manufacturer...and never heard from them again! I was so deflated after that. But that's why it's so important to believe in what you're doing because that's where your resilience comes in. As I always say, you can't have grit without optimism!

When did you first realize the power and importance of optimism? I know you and your family went through a really hard time in 2008, do you have any tips on how to face a tough situation with optimism?

Optimism gets a bad rap because a lot of people think it's a positivity pledge or you're just being naive. But optimism is actually not a mood, it's a strategy. In fact, we have to see and absorb the bad times in order to bring the good to the world. Hard times give us a choice: they can be the excuse as to why we do less or they can be the reason as to why we do more. Optimism allows us to see problems as opportunities to do more. That's why I wrote Chasing the Bright Side!

What is something you are currently looking forward to?

I've been working on a new idea I've had for awhile called Bright Pages. It's a guided online journaling platform for creative doers. I'm totally new to the technology space and we're still working on it but I'm so excited to bring something that I've looked for on that market into reality.


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