Jess Ekstrom

Jess Ekstrom started a give-back company when she was in college and it quickly went viral. From Good Morning America to Vanity Fair, her company and message made ripples around the world. Jess uses her experiences and humor to inspire students to crush stereotypes, identify their purpose, and create their own definition of success.

Jess Ekstrom

Jess was also recently voted as Women’s Health Magazine’s 2017 Ultimate Game Changer winner for the work she has done with her company, Headbands of Hope!

Headbands of Hope: How it Started With a SPARK!

One small moment can create a spark, which changes your life forever. During the summer of her junior year, Jess Ekstrom worked for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As she interacted with children facing life-threatening illnesses, she discovered that young girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs after losing their hair to chemotherapy. Armed with inspiration to do good beyond her internships, she soon after founded Headbands of Hope. Headbands of Hope creates fun, fashionable headbands – and for every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer. Since launching the organization in 2012, Headbands of Hope has been featured on The Today Show, Seventeen Magazine, Forbes, and more. Most importantly, Headbands of Hope has donated headbands to every children’s hospital in the United States. So many college students want to make a difference, and plan to do it “someday.” Jess is living proof that a college student with an amazing idea and a willingness to act on it need not wait. College students can build companies, affect change, and solve problems before graduation if they have the commitment. In her campus keynote, Jess shares her journey creating Headbands of Hope, encouraging audience members to change awareness of issues into action.

Jess Ekstrom

Jess is an excellent choice for programs that promote leadership, social change and making the most of your college experience. Consider her whenever you are promoting service and social change to students. Consider her for women’s achievement seminars, new student orientation, leadership conferences and more. She is also a fantastic option for Panhellenic councils looking for an example of a woman who put the value of service into action.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending the program, students will learn:

  • how to overcome the fear of limited experience,
  • how to use their time in college to take risks and launch ideas,
  • the importance of internships and taking advantage of college programs, and
  • understanding failure is key to growth and success.

Messy + Meaningful: Changing Perfect to Purpose

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.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending the program, students will learn:

  • that every expert they know was once a beginner,
  • how failures are not opposite of success, they’re part of the success,
  • that in order to be resilient, you have to believe in the end result.

The #UltimateBucketList Challenge

If you could do anything during your lifetime, what would it be? What actions are you taking today to get you there? Many of us imagine a list of goals we want to achieve, but sometimes they don’t get put into motion. Jess says there are two things that stand between us and our bucket list: the courage to try and the belief that we can. In her keynote, Jess Ekstrom challenges students to build their bucket list with a personal plan and timeline for making it happen. She captivates the audience by incorporating personal stories from when she was young and auditioned for the show All That, to when she went to college and started a million-dollar business from her dorm room. She also references bucket list stories from others, like the time when her sister ran 100 miles straight. Jess explains in detail how to move forward with our passions, even when we have moments of uncertainty or are afraid to fail. At the end of the keynote, students will leave with one bucket list item personal to them and a deadline of one year to achieve it. But the most important thing they’ll leave with is the spark of motivation to go for it!

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this program, students will learn:

  • the power of perspective and how to effectively readjust outlooks to accommodate open-minded thinking and positivity,
  • an effective goal-setting process and how to establish a realistic timeline to ensure completion, and
  • the value of personal growth, commitment, and accountability, along with strategies for application in all aspects of life.

Intern to BOSS

Not long ago, Jess Ekstrom sat on “the other side” of the desk for an interview, and now, she is the interviewer for her company. After speaking with hundreds of college students who are looking to get their foot in the door, Jess has learned what the essentials are to stand out from the others and what doesn’t work. Jess shares her experiences and insights on how to make the best impressions when applying for an internship or future career and how to use and transfer your professional skills to future opportunities. Jess shares her tips on the important details such as how to research a company you’re interviewing for, polishing your resume, the proper etiquette with phone and in-person interviews and how to follow-up. This keynote will motivate students to take control of their life and feel more confident in their search for a position with a company they’re passionate about while learning how Jess went from intern to boss.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this program, students will learn:

  • how to take advantage of opportunities to further their professional development,
  • the importance of making connections with others and growing their network,
  • how to transfer skills learned from internships or other jobs toward future careers, and
  • valuable tips on how to create a better resume, proper interview etiquette, and the importance of following up after an interview.

Custom Programs

Is your campus organization interested in creating an impactful philanthropy event? Jess’ keynote, Mission Impact, is an excellent way to reach out and motivate people to be a part of something that will leave a lasting, positive impact. Whether it’s a month before or even a day before your event takes place, Mission Impact will get everyone to get passionate for your cause! Examples of some great event ideas include:

  • Day of Service
  • Dance Marathon
  • Up Til Dawn
  • Corporate/Local Partnerships for a Cause
  • Sport-Related Activities Fundraiser
  • Local Volunteer Work
  • and more!

Mission Impact

Has community service become a requirement? Is it 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. Jess Ekstrom 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 worthwhile. When Jess walks into the hospital and sees a girl’s face light up, she understands what success means. Jess reminds audiences that making that connection is the key to finding meaning in community service and social change. By connecting other students to the inspiration of service, they can raise more money, solve more problems, build better leaders and change their communities. Sometimes, creating that inspiration means taking risks and coloring outside the lines, she says. 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 crucial messages to other students.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending the program, students will learn:

  • the importance to inspire members to want to give back and contribute, instead of treating philanthropy like a checklist,
  • to focus on action rather than just raising awareness,
  • how to take personal responsibility in making positive changes, and
  • how to transition inspiration into an action plan.

“After the program, I waited in line to get a picture with Jess. I want to hang that picture in my office one day and tell people, this is the girl that changed my life.”

Tonya, Western Carolina University

“This was my favorite event so far. It really gave me motivation to do what I believe in.”

Brittany Lee, Marshall University

“I’m on Junior Panhellenic and we sponsored Jess coming to speak to our community. I honestly think it was the best money we’ve ever invested. Being in the Greek Community I’ve heard a lot of speakers, but hers was the most inspirational speech I’ve ever heard! She made me want to find my own “perspective anchor” and to stop measuring my success based on tangible achievements, but rather the feeling you get doing something you love.”

Julianne Cavanaugh, James Madison University

“Coming to Jess’s program was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. I can without a doubt tell you right now that what she presented tonight was my “spark” she was talking about. I finally figured out what I want to do with my future and how I want to be remembered because of her program. I cannot thank her enough for giving me that extra push!”

Kelsey Thompson, James Madison University

“Jess is extremely intelligent. Her business knowledge and professional attitude at her age blew my mind. You shouldn’t have to decide between making a living and making a difference.”

Taylor Presley, North Carolina State University

“When she got to the podium at graduation, she gave the best speech I’ve ever heard. She’s living proof that one person truly can make a difference.”

Jennifer Crow, North Carolina State University

“If you want an impactful program that will be a huge hit for your students and staff, please bring Jess Ekstrom. She is absolutely incredible. She is a young woman who is changing the world with her work. We had her on campus for our Student Leader Banquet and she was a huge success with the students and faculty.”

Kevin K, Dean of Students, Western Carolina University

“Jess Ekstrom was the perfect choice to speak to our first year students who are exploring majors.  She was absolutely amazing!  She shared insights on her college experience, the importance of taking advantage of campus resources, and how important campus connections can be.  Jess also encouraged students through her own story to find their passion, things that all freshman need to hear.  Her presentation was so genuinely engaging and spot-on for our students, that after a standing ovation it was no surprise that there was also a line of students waiting to chat with her. We have already talked about her coming back next year!”

Student, North Carolina State University

“Jess Ekstrom’s message is just what we were looking for and hoping for to be a part of the OU Leader Summit. Her story is a message of hope and inspiration, but also one of resiliency that many college students need to hear. The students loved her demeanor, presentation style, vulnerability and realness. There has been a great deal of buzz about the conference and so many participants said that Jess was one of their favorite speakers ever.”

Becky Barker, Director of Leadership & Volunteerism, University of Oklahoma

“I think I heard you speak three or four times and each time I take something new away and apply it to my life. I was inspired when you talked about the fire that was lit inside of you to pursue Headbands for Hope. Thank you for reminding me the other night that when we find something that ignites that excitement and passion inside of us, we should pursue it, even if we know it might get messy along the way.”

Sarah Rigsby, Assistant Director of Student Organizations & Activities, Belmont University

Jess’ Bio

During her junior year of college, Jess started her own company, Headbands of Hope, to help brighten the lives of children battling cancer. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer. Jess works full-time as the CEO of the company, regularly visits hospitals around the country to deliver headbands to girls and visits campuses nationwide to share her story of how she turned a summer internship into an organization that changes the world. Jess decided to put all of her tips and tricks (and mistakes) into a guide to help others who are about to embark on their college journey. Her book, The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College, is available on Amazon. Jess is a 2013 graduate of North Carolina State University.


Promotional Resources


Speaking at PMI Madison today! Love their rocker theme of the conference 🎸 #rockpdd

Meaningful work is not assigned to you, it's created by you. [email protected]_ekstrom at #PDD2018 thanks @PMIMadison

@jess_ekstrom the dartboard theory:
1) find a target
2) pursue from all angles until success
Simplified yet effective!

Jess grabbed the audience right off the bat! Great speaker! #PDD2018 #HeadbandsforHope @jess_ekstrom

What to know some unconventional advice from my mom? Check it out in @Forbes 👇

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