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How a College Student Generated $100K for Her Company The CEO of a business with a social mission shares six tips for taking advantage of being on campus.

By Jess Ekstrom

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The idea for my company, Headbands of Hope, came from a summer internship at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses when I was 19. I realized that girls loved to wear headbands after hair-loss instead of wigs. So I created a company that gave a headband to a child with cancer and $1 to research for every headband sold.

I was studying communications at the time and didn't know the first thing about starting a business or even manufacturing a product. But I knew I was onto something with this idea and it was a need that wasn't being met, so I went for it.

Before I graduated in May 2013, I generated over $100,000 in revenue. I walked on stage at graduation, got my diploma and kept walking into a full-time job as CEO of Headbands of Hope. We continue to grow every year, but that first year of business while I was a student and the revenue I generated by myself while taking a full course load is one that I'll never forget.

Related: 6 Steps to Becoming a Successful Student Entrepreneur (Infographic)

Here are some pieces of advice to generate revenue before graduation.

1. Students are your customers -- and they'll tweet about it.

Your friends are your first customers. Being on a college campus, my first supporters were my friends, roommates, classmates and anyone else who I could tell about my company. The great thing about having college students as customers is that they're vocal on social media. They didn't just buy my headbands. They bought them, Instagrammed a picture wearing it and then tweeted to all of their friends to buy one.

2. Start a campus representative program.

A lot of my friends were also attending other colleges and they wanted to help spread the word. I threw together a "Campus Rep Program" and had my friends on campuses represent the brand, sell to students, team up with clubs and donate to local hospitals. Then, they told their friends at other schools. Now our program is on almost 100 campuses.

3. Utilize free mentors.

Whenever I had a question about something I didn't know (how to create a business plan, how to create a logo, how to build a website) I reached out to different professors in those departments. Even though I wasn't taking their classes, they still set aside time to help me on my business because I was a student. The guidance I received from professors helped me build a strong foundation for my company without having to do hours of research.

4. Get in front of people.

I was a campus tour guide and would give tours once or twice a week to hundreds of high school students and families. At the beginning of the tour, I'd introduce myself, talk about my major, where I'm from and my business. I also was a group fitness instructor and would do headband giveaways with my attendees.

Related: 4 Entrepreneurial Lessons Every Graduate Should Know

College has so many opportunities to stand up in front of large audiences and share your story. My school started using me and my company as promotional material on its website, alumni blog and even invited me to speak at events to represent the university. Now my story is shared in new student orientation.

5. Use class for your company.

During my senior year I was taking a lot of communications and public relations courses. I talked to my professors at the beginning of class and told them about my company. I requested that any assignments or projects I do in class be in relation to my business.

When I had an assignment to create a media kit, I created one for Headbands of Hope. Not only did it help me to create a media kit, I was also graded and critiqued on it with professional feedback. I did this as much as I could in courses that I could apply to my business, so I was doing school while working on my company.

6. Draw attention to your age.

So much of the press and media attention my company has received has also been a result of my young age. There are a lot of negative stereotypes of the millennial generation, so when someone steps out of that circle and does something good, it gets noticed.

Starting a company at any age is a challenge. But I'm living proof that college can provide you with opportunities to get started on the right foot. Hopefully, by the time you graduate, you'll have proof of concept and you can work on your business full time, or you'll know that it's time to let it go and try something new.

Either way, college is filled with opportunities and experiences to grow as an entrepreneur, whether you're a business major or not.

Related: 5 College Degrees That Prepare You for Small-Business Success

Jess Ekstrom

CEO and Founder of HeadbandsOfHope.com, Speaker and Author.

Jessica Ekstrom founded Headbands of Hope when she was a senior in college in 2012. She created the company to bring joy back to kids who have lost their hair and help fund childhood cancer research. Headbands of Hope has given tens of thousands of dollars to childhood cancer research and has donated headbands to every children's hospital in the United States.

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