Friday, December 17, 2021
University of Iowa College of Education

Nicole Williams never thought she would be an entrepreneur. That was until this past summer, when a friend convinced her to enter Startup Weekend Iowa City, a weekend-long event where participants come up with ideas for companies and give pitches to judges at the end of the weekend. July’s Startup Weekend focused on companies that would solve today’s problems in education.

Nicole Williams
Williams enjoys playing the organ to bring joy to others. Photo by Grace Basler.

Williams, a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Education Studies and Human Relations and Organ Performance, came up with the idea for an app called “B-Sharp,” and won the Startup Weekend. 

Williams envisions B-Sharp as an app that will provide music lessons and music education tools to all students. She hopes that an app format will help bridge the gap in accessibility of music education. 

Growing up in Iowa, where many of the school districts are rural, Nicole saw districts where there was one music teacher in place to serve entire districts. Hearing stories of students who didn’t get to pick which instrument they played, or schools that didn’t start music education until middle school helped spark her passion for closing this opportunity gap. 

“I think it’s really important to recognize that the opportunity gap, specifically in music and music education, is huge right now,” Williams says. “I think using this application will hopefully help to eventually eliminate the opportunity gap because we have so many resources.” 

B-Sharp being an app for phones means that anyone with access to a smartphone will have access to the resources within the app. When one opens the app, they will be given the options to work through warm-ups, scales, ear-training, or enter a tuning function. Eventually, Williams would like to add a teacher-student interaction function where teachers can make more meaningful connections with their students and track progress. To give teachers and students access to a large music library, Williams would also like to partner with a publishing company.  

Not only can Williams play the flute, but she also plays many other instruments. Photo by Grace Basler.

One of the reasons Williams is so passionate about expanding access to music education is because of the doors music has opened for her personally. Williams is on a full-tuition scholarship for organ performance, something she couldn't have accomplished without the access she had to music education. In addition to organ, Williams plays piano, guitar, ukulele, percussion, flute, and piccolo. 

B-Sharp is also intended to help students begin learning music at a younger age. 

“We can start training kids and teaching kids when they’re in first grade and start giving them some sort of opportunity to be in music and to learn music,” Williams says. “I taught a five-year-old piano. They’re capable, they’re smart, and there just isn’t the opportunity to do that for everyone.” 

By including things like oral training and internal motivation tools within the app, Williams hopes it will help teach students the best ways to practice early on. 

As the app is still in the development stage, Williams says her largest challenge has been deciding what the next steps will be. 

“I’m hoping to have it out of the idea stage and start talking to investors by the end of next summer,” Williams says. 

Within the next five years, Williams hopes B-Sharp will be a developed app that is used in the majority of rural districts in the Midwest and growing. 

“If B-Sharp ends up being really successful, I think I could really impact the way that music education happens,” Williams says. 

Williams says that the education she has received within the Iowa College of Education has helped prepare her for this endeavor by changing the way she views and approaches education. 

“The College of Education has really given me an opportunity to learn and design my own path,” Williams says. 

After her advisor suggested trying the Education Studies and Human Relations major, Williams immediately fell in love with it. 

“I remember thinking, ‘How has this type of major never existed before?’” Williams says. “It fits perfectly with what I want out of college.” 

The ESHR major has allowed her to personalize her learning, enabling her to learn about education and work on B-Sharp in addition to preparing for a future in graduate school. In her dream world, Williams hopes to work on B-Sharp full-time after graduation. However, she also plans to continue on to graduate school to become a couple and family therapist.

“Taking two ESHR classes this semester has impacted me greatly,” Williams says. “Where I’m at now, I feel like I’ve not only grown as a student, but also as a person after learning about education.”