College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Lights. Instruments. Action!

Jacob Schmieder smiles while dressed in his marching band uniform and holding his trumpet.
Jacob Schmieder smiles while dressed in his marching band uniform and holding his trumpet.

The Iowa State University Cyclone Football ‘Varsity’ Marching Band is performing during the 2018 Band Extravaganza. The drumline is equipped with lights that flash different colors every time they hit their drums and the crowd goes wild over the spectacle. This is when Jacob Schmieder, a trumpet player in the band, came up with a business idea.

Schmieder, a M.S. student in mechanical engineering (ME), is part of the 2021 cohort of CyStarters with his company Varsity Instrument Lights. CyStarters “is an 11-week summer accelerator for Iowa State students or recent graduates to focus on their startup or business idea.” CyStarters was the perfect opportunity for him to further develop the business idea that first game to him during that Band Extravaganza performance in 2018.

“Varsity Instrument Lights aims to enhance the performances of bands and performers,” said Schmieder. “By changing the colors of the lights based on the notes being played, we can add a visual aspect to performances based on what the director wants.”

In addition to providing a visual aspect to the audience, Schmieder’s product also offers a practical application for the performers who can use the lights as a tuner to help train their ears to better play in-tune.

Schmieder grew up in Little Chute, Wisc. He chose Iowa State University because of the robust undergraduate research opportunities available and studied biochemistry as an undergraduate. He was also intrigued by the opportunity to play in a big university marching band. He played trumpet during his first three years as an undergraduate, then during his senior year and now in his first year of graduate school he is serving as one of the marching band’s drum majors. The drum majors direct the band during rehearsals and games, help to clean the drill on the field and help with the behind the scenes work for the band. For Schmieder, the marching band is not only an outlet for him to express his musical creativity, but it has also contributed to his broader personal and professional development.

“The marching band has allowed me to develop leadership skills, teamwork skills, improve my time management, build my reliability, and so much more,” he said.

A student wearing a band uniform and playing a trumpet
Photo by Logan TeKolste

While Schmieder oversees the broader operations of Varsity Instrument Lights, he said he would not be able to do it without the support from other members on his team. This includes Logan Tekolste, a music education major who is responsible for marketing; Sam Lavin, a computer engineering major handling the software; and Nathan Paskach, a computer engineering major in charge of the hardware. He also recognizes the support he has received from the CyStarters program as well as the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Both the Pappajohn Center and CyStarters have done an outstanding job setting me up for success,” he said. “I have learned bits and pieces of every aspect of starting a business and I feel prepared to use those tools to build another start-up in the future.”

In addition to his studies, his business and marching band, Schmieder is also involved in research. He current works in the lab of Jonathan Claussen, associate professor of mechanical engineering, where he studies sweat biosensors. He said he hopes to leverage his passion for research into another start-up down the road.

“I hope to do research in the medical device space in the future. Traditionally, there is a disconnect between university research and consumers. As I move towards my career, I hope to be able to bring the products I create through my research directly to consumers,” Schmieder said.

Schmieder will complete his B.S. in ME in Spring 2021 and plans to pursue a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program after graduation. Knowing that he will be leaving Iowa State University for the next step in his journey, he said he will always remember the great times he had in Ames.

“Nearly all of my fondest memories at Iowa State have been with the band. TCU in 2017, West Virginia in 2018, bowl games and countless times with lifelong friends,” he said.