CYstarters Spotlight Story: Varsity Music

This story is part of a series featuring each of the fourteen startups in the CYstarters 2021 summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.

By Samantha Dilocker, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

Founded by recent Iowa State grad Jacob Schmieder, the goal of Instrument Lights is to bring a new aspect to performances that are looking to stick out in a crowd or add some flare.

Get to know: Jacob SchmiederImage of Jacob Schmieder

Age: 22

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, pursuing a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University

Passionate about: Learning, music, and baseball

Most recently I: Graduated from Iowa State!


Currently working on: Instrument Lights


When did you start working on Instrument Lights?

I believe it was my sophomore year. This all started as an honors project. I was inspired by the drumline when we play at Band Extravaganza each year. At the end of the marching band season in Stephens Auditorium, they rise up from the orchestra pit with the lights in Stephens off, and they have some pretty simple lights on their drums that every time you hit the drum, the drum lights up, and people go nuts for it. I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool. I want to also have lights on my instrument!” so I talked to my director. He was like, “Yeah, that sounds really awesome, please do that for us,” and then I met with the honors department, and they were like, “Instead of just doing the lights as your honors project, this could make a little more sense doing it as a business!” I was like, “Okay, yeah,” so that’s how that started.


Have you always seen yourself starting something?

Yeah, for sure! I really didn’t think it was going to be a business until about six months ago, but I mean, I’ve loved creating something. In the future, I want to be the head of a research lab. So I’ll be creating, whether that’s something as a part of my research lab or being able to create a business right now.


Why Instrument Lights?

Originally  it was very much like, “Oh, I want to be able to engage the audience like that, it would be super cool to throw lights on in Jack Trice, or in Hilton” Hilton is a little bit more manageable because the lights in there are more easily controlled than in Jack Trice. But for the marching band, I was like, “This would be super cool. We went viral for the dinosaurs a couple of years ago, this is another cool opportunity that maybe we could do that again,” but as I have thought more and more about it, it’s also a super awesome teaching tool, because it allows you also to have these lights act as a tuner, or tell you what pitch you’re playing just by a color of the light. So especially for younger kids learning their instruments, it allows them to visually see if they are playing the right note or are in tune. I remember some days in high school spending like 15 minutes of our 45 minute class period trying to tune, which is super inefficient, but this can make that happen quicker. Something I just thought of today, there’s a couple of students in the music department here that are hard of hearing, and you know, they’re playing an instrument for a living, so something like this can make practicing and stuff easier on them. So as well as just visually engaging an audience, there are so many opportunities to make it a learning experience. Learning an instrument can be frustrating! So it can keep students more engaged with music and potentially have the ability to engage more students. It’s always good to have students in the arts.


How have you grown since you started?

I worked quite a bit with Diana Wright, who just moved on, but she was super awesome and gave me a lot of excellent resources. Because my background is in biochemistry, I really haven’t had a lot of exposure to a lot of this stuff or any idea of what I’m doing on the hardware side. So I spent a lot of time collaborating with people, working on code and circuits and stuff like that, just throwing a lot of things at the wall and finally figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s been a huge learning experience and has prepared me to bring it to market. That’s part of why I’m so excited to keep moving with the program, because again, I love to learn, so I’m going to soak up everything that I can throughout the next ten weeks to give myself as much information as I can to keep growing.


What future milestones would you like to hit?

The biggest milestone that I have right now… I kind of promised these to our director! So I would really like to have a functional product ready to roll right around September 1st so that we can actually throw these on instruments and get them in the stadium at a rehearsal, whatever it may be. After that, going to some conventions and tabling and showing off what I have. Being involved with the music department, I have many friends who are aspiring music teachers, so I’ve heard that they go to a large band directors conference, so if I could go and market myself there, that would be awesome.


What is the biggest challenge you face each day?

Right now, juggling my master’s program and CYstarters is a challenge. I’m also doing research, trying to crank out a publication this summer, which is really cool but also takes a lot of my time. As far as the business goes, it’s a huge learning curve. If you have had the chance to watch me in some of these sessions, I am scribbling down notes from everything that everyone is saying because I’m trying to get any piece of information that someone is talking about so I can apply it. Overcoming that learning curve is hard, but you know, with the group of people that we’re surrounded with here, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.


How has entrepreneurship at Iowa State impacted you?

It provided me with a lot of opportunities that I didn’t really recognize. At no point in my life was I like, “I’m going to be a business owner!” I’ve loved research, and that’s where my career will end up, but you know, on top of this project, I also got to speak with someone that I listened to at a research symposium this spring who works in a research lab, but is the owner a bunch of businesses as well. He made this medical adhesive that the original design for was to close holes in infants’ hearts, but as they continue to grow, it was a challenge to stick that to a surface. After they developed that in his research lab, he was able to work with the actual doctors that use the adhesive to bring that product to market so that doctors across the world have access to something which makes treating a very difficult disease or condition so much easier to treat. He talked about how trying to stitch those holes up doesn’t work because as the child grows, the heart grows, and those stitches will rip apart. He ended up finding uses for it in veterinary applications, too, so thinking about that as I move forward into my career, being able not just to develop something in a lab but then be able to bring what I develop and make it a consumer product so that the things I’m creating actually have a real impact on the community that I’m trying to serve. Ultimately that’s what research should be for; you should be developing things that are useful in real life. Being able to have some of those tools entrepreneurship has taught me in my tool belt allows me to accelerate that process so someday there’s not a manufacturer that’s looking at a research paper or something like that and saying, “Oh, this looks like something that maybe we could manufacture, make some money off of,” instead, I can take my product, then shuttle it out into the community.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?

Take advantage of your opportunities! There’s so much you can do out there! My path has most certainly not been straight. Take the opportunities that come to you so you can learn as much as you can. There are so many things that I have done that are not what I’m going to do for a living, but I have learned a lot of things in those situations that can apply to just about anything.


Where are you headed? And how would you invite others to join you?

Well, I hope to be headed to med school in the fall of ’22, so I am starting to pursue a research career as well, but again, I really hope to continue to create. Especially in today’s age where a lot of disciplines aren’t isolated anymore, everything is so interconnected, and you have to be creative. You have to have those personal skills to connect and interact with people, so regardless of what you’re doing, building those skills and staying creative to apply new thought processes to old problems is really what’s going to start changing the world now. Staying on that track, if it’s a business, take the opportunities around you at Iowa State; there are so many of them. Especially with the new Innovate at Iowa State initiative really kicking off hard this year, you have so many resources to be able to find your way in entrepreneurship or just innovation in general, you have all sorts of resources to start moving the world forward.