CYstarters Spotlight: Ensemble

By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship,networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.

Josiah Graves (left) and Joshua Graves (right).

Joshua and Josiah Graves have always been passionate about music. For as long as they can remember, the brothers have listened to, played, and even created their own music. Today, the brothers are taking large strides toward turning this lifelong hobby into a career.

Breaking Down Barriers

Joshua (21) always knew he wanted to be a Cyclone. He came to Iowa State University to study engineering, but after two years, he moved to a business analytics degree. Throughout college, the desire to pursue music continued to nag at the back of his mind, so Joshua began producing as a side gig. Josiah (24) didn’t start out as a Cyclone but ended up at ISU to study graphic design. As an artist himself, he is incorporating his passion into his studies by designing digital art for musical artists.

The Graves family is close-knit, and although the brothers had their own individual musical pursuits, they always imagined pursuing something together. Having grown up around parents with an incredible work ethic, who sacrificed to provide every opportunity for their children, the Graves brothers were prepared to put in the hard work. So, when their godbrother approached them with an idea for an app that would provide a platform for collaboration among musicians, the pair knew they had to be a part of it. 

The Graves brothers identified several problems that drove their desire to create this app. First, in order to make it big, musicians generally have to move to a large city where the likelihood of getting discovered is higher. This can be very expensive and high risk. Second, the social media apps currently available (Tiktok, Instagram, etc.) are so saturated with other forms of entertainment that musicians get lost in the overload of content.

In hopes of eliminating these barriers for new artists, the Graves brothers founded Ensemble, a social media app for musicians and music lovers alike. With a focus on collaboration and community, the app provides opportunities to connect with other musicians to create the next big hit. Ensemble makes pursuing a career in music low risk, cost-effective, and more accessible to everyone. Joshua has big dreams for the platform saying, “We’re trying to take over the whole music industry and break down the barriers of entry for everyone.”

From Cyclone to CYstarter

In the fall of 2022, Joshua stumbled upon an incredible pianist while studying in the MU. After playing two incredible songs, Joshua approached the pianist leading with a compliment, and ending with an overview of the app they were developing. Impressed by the idea, the student urged Joshua to connect with the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. He reached out to Megan Graettinger (CYstarters program director) who encouraged him to apply for CYstarters. “Megan was the first person on campus to push us to actually pursue our business and take it further than we had ever planned,” said Josiah, thrilled that Megan felt their business idea was viable. Shortly thereafter, the Graves brothers applied to the CYstarters program and were accepted into the 2023 cohort.

The brothers faced challenges in the development of Ensemble, but the positives of their experience in CYstarters far outweighed those difficulties. Each student in the cohort received a $6,500 stipend to use at their discretion. With this money, the Graves brothers were able to pay for an IP lawyer to begin the patent process for Ensemble. They’ve also had the invaluable opportunity to tell their story, build brand awareness, and share their app with new audiences. They have learned to prioritize the many aspects of business and to celebrate the little victories as they come.

Joshua and Josiah are grateful for the growth they’ve seen in themselves this summer as CYstarters. They’ve grown their knowledge of business, and their confidence in telling their story. By stepping outside of their comfort zone, they were able to take full advantage of this unique opportunity and walk away from the experience with great connections.

Demo Day

Josiah (left) and Joshua (right) receiving the mystery judge award from Dean David Spalding of the Ivy College of Business.

On Tuesday, August 1st, the CYstarters program came to a close with one final event. Demo Day celebrated the 15 businesses developed by cohort 8 and showcased the progress they’ve made as part of the 11-week summer program. Five $1,000 scholarships were awarded by mystery judges in the audience after the students pitched their businesses for the final time. The Graves brothers were selected by Dean David Spalding of the Ivy College of Business to receive one of the $1,000 awards.

Leaving on a high note, the Graves brothers are heading into their senior year with a viable business that focuses on their passion for music. They are hard at work creating a functional app and plan to launch Ensemble in the coming months. Joshua and Josiah are just getting started in entrepreneurship, and they are excited about the opportunities available to them at Iowa State University.

Let’s continue to support the Graves brothers by following them on Instagram and TikTok where they will announce the launch of Ensemble.