Friday, December 17, 2021

Nicole Williams never thought she would be an entrepreneur.
That is, until summer of 2021, 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. The July 2021 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 University of Iowa third-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.” 

B-Sharp is a music education app that uses gamification and bite-size learning to engage students. When a student opens the app, they will be shown modules which consist of music theory lessons. Within each module there will be two to three concepts delivered in the form of short lessons. When one completes a module, they will have a choice between practicing what they've learned or assessing. Practicing consists of vocabulary multiple choice and listening skills.

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. 

If B-Sharp ends up being really successful, I think I could really impact the way that music education happens and expose students to music at a younger age,” 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, through the ESHR major,” Williams says. 


See more from the Annual Report