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. Sharing her experiences, Jess inspires students to crush stereotypes, identify their purpose, and create their own definition of success.

Headbands of Hope: How One College Student Refused to Wait to Make a Difference

Who says an internship can’t change your life? 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 a great choice for programs that encourage 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 wonderful 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.

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 own 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.

Inspire, Not Require

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 the 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.

Leadership: Millennial Style!

Jess Ekstrom admits that she hid her young age when starting her business. At 20, she feared the millennial stereotypes would be stamped on her forehead. She worried that no one outside the college environment would take her seriously. Why? Look around. There are thousands of articles bashing today’s 20-somethings. “I thought the fact I was finishing my Spanish homework in between conference calls would make me less credible and they’d just write me off,” she said.

She learned quickly that being a Millennial was actually one of her biggest strengths. Jess realized the stereotypes that are placed on her generation could be turned into qualities of great leaders. In her keynote, students will learn from a fellow millennial on how to use their age and generation stereotypes to become leaders in their communities. Being socially connected, itching to see the world, expecting success, and being a self-starter are all qualities that can be used for good, contrary to what some in the media might suggest. Jess encourages audiences to crush the stereotypes and take advantage of the resources available to college students to get an amazing idea off the ground. “People in their twenties need to quit listening to those who say they can’t, and start acting to show that they can,” says Jess.

In this keynote, Jess recounts all the rejections, mistakes, lessons and refinements she experienced (and continues to experience) as a social entrepreneur. “If I’m not failing at something, I’m not trying hard enough,” she said.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • how to flip negative stereotypes placed on millennials and focus on strengths,
  • that age is not a deterrent to action,
  • how the use of technology and social media can be advantageous, and
  • how to live more in the moment.

Self Made Success: College Lessons From a College CEO

When Jess started college, she wanted to become a better public speaker. She decided to teach fitness classes and became a campus tour guide. When she wanted to jump start her career, she worked with the campus career center and landed an internship with the Today Show. When she needed to make friends, she took a leap and joined a flag-football league. When she wanted to start a business, she worked with the business school to create Headbands of Hope.

In this keynote, Jess stresses the importance of maximizing each opportunity that presents itself during college. She shares her own stories, tips, and tricks that she found helped her succeed not only during college, but also in building her dream career as a business owner and philanthropist. Through funny anecdotes (like the time she failed two tests), woven in with practical tips that students can begin using immediately, Jess encourages students not to wait until their senior year to get involved. Highlighting opportunities like holding positions in student government, running a campus event, or even applying for once-in-a-lifetime internships, Jess will inspire students to focus on making their years in college have an impact that lasts well past graduation.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • steps to take in college to prepare for a professional career,
  • how to make the most of the resources provided on a college campus, and
  • how to think like an entrepreneur: solving problems and thinking of creative solutions.

“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’ 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


Learn practical tips to launch your business from @HeadbandsofHope Founder & CEO, @jess_ekstrom.

Cheers to 100,000 headbands donated! What a wonderful contribution. Way to go @jess_ekstrom and your team!…

“Starting a #business is about your #passions and #excitement outweighing your fears and doubts.” @jess_ekstrom…

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