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E-Commerce Technology Helps Social Entrepreneur Support Cancer Research

Jessica Ekstrom, Headbands of Hope
Jessica Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, donates a headband to a cancer patient and $1 to childhood cancer research for every sale her company makes. / Credit: Headbands of Hope

Name: Jessica Ekstrom
Business name: Headbands of Hope
Years in business: 2
Website address: http://www.headbandsofhope.org/

In summer 2011, 19-year-old college student Jessica Ekstrom did an internship at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Western North Carolina. Every day, she visited children with life-threatening illnesses and granted their wishes. Ekstrom's team at Make-A-Wish received hundreds of letters from children who said the foundation changed their lives. Little did those children know, they were changing hers, too.

Inspired by her experiences with young cancer patients, Ekstrom decided to embark on a social entrepreneurship journey. She founded Headbands of Hope, an e-commerce retailer that donates $1 to childhood cancer research at the St. Baldrick's Foundation and one headband to a cancer patient for each headband sold.

New to the world of e-commerce, Ekstrom relied heavily on technology to help get her business up and running. She shared her experience and her thoughts on the one nontech skill every entrepreneur needs.

Business News Daily: What problem were you hoping to solve when you started your business?

Jessica Ekstrom: One day, I was pulling my hair back in a ponytail and thought about the hundreds of girls I encountered who had lost their hair to chemotherapy. I saw how much losing their hair had an impact on their self-esteem and confidence level. Being a young girl presents many struggles with self-esteem already, and losing their hair as a result of a life-threatening illness is traumatic. Not only do they have to face the risk of losing their lives, but they feel that they lose a part of their feminine identity. Therefore, I started Headbands of Hope: For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer. [We also help] fund life-saving childhood cancer research.

BND: Could your business have existed 20 years ago?

J.E.: Definitely, but like other businesses, it would have been run differently. Our products would have been predominantly in retail locations rather than online sales. Also, it wouldn't have been as easy to share the impact we're making, since social media wasn't around.

BND: What technology has had the biggest effect on making your business possible?

J.E.: I really owe a lot of our business setup to Shopify. When I got the idea for Headbands of Hope, I didn't know anything about creating an e-commerce site. Shopifymakes it easy to create your own site and design it the way you'd like with just a few clicks. It took away a lot of the hassle of trying to figure out coding, and I could just focus on getting my company off the ground. [For a side-by-side comparison of the best e-commerce software, visit our sister site Business.com.]

BND: What technology can't you live without?

J.E.: I love the app HelloSign. I have to fill out a lot of forms and add signatures, and it takes so long to print and scan, plus it's a waste of paper. HelloSign allows me to sign everything digitally and send the document right then and there. Simple is always better for me!

BND: If you could hire one extra person right now, what would you have them do?

J.E.: If I could hire one extra person right now, it would be to travel to shows. Since my public-speaking career is really starting to take off, I travel all the time, making my schedule really tight to travel to trade shows. I'd love someone who could travel from show to show and represent our brand.

BND: What technology do you wish existed?

J.E.: We have a campus-rep program at almost 100 different schools. I'd love an affordable portal where they could log in and submit their points for review.

BND: What app are you relying on most right now?

J.E.: I love the app Hipmunk for booking my flights. It makes it really simple (did I mention I love simplicity?) and allows you to send the flight you found to your computer to book from there, or you can book on your phone. Plus, I love the travel tips and quotes it gives you while your flights are loading.

BND: What's the most valuable nontech skill an entrepreneur needs?

J.E.: Persistence. There are so many opportunities we've gotten because we're persistent and follow up. There's a line you have to find between being persistent and being annoying; however, I'd rather say that I tried my best than say, "I wish I had."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.