InvestU event brings ASU students, entrepreneurs and investors together for advancement

May 6, 2019

An innovative idea, the right pitch and an affiliation with Arizona State University may be the winning combination for two companies participating in the InvestU pitch event on May 20.

Surf Entertainment is focused on customizing passengers’ ride share experiences, while EndoVantage is assisting surgeons with complex procedures. Both companies must persuade accredited investors to invest money and resources in their ventures in a format similar to the show "Shark Tank." Download Full Image

"Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities and ASU is the most innovative university,” said Robby Choueiri, associate director of ventures and investments for Arizona State University Enterprise Partners. “There are a limited number of funding options in Arizona during a company’s early stages. We’re building a community entrepreneurial ecosystem to introduce capital and resources, which leads to growth, job creation and more innovation.”

Eli Chmouni, founder and chief executive officer of Surf Entertainment, is excited to showcase his company at the pitch event that provides hands-on learning for ASU students who assist with selecting the companies and researching them for the investors. 

“I’m an ASU grad, and I’ve been teaching at ASU for eight years,” Chmouni said. “With Surf we’ve been going beyond Arizona for funding. It’s very exciting to pitch and raise funds locally. It’s a nice endorsement stamp and kind of cool to pitch in front of the ASU (community).”

Chmouni earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from ASU and teaches entrepreneurship classes in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Previously, he taught engineering classes in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Surf is Chmouni’s fourth startup and provides free in-car information and entertainment for Lyft and Uber passengers using a tablet mounted to the back of the passenger headrest. The platform launched in Phoenix in March 2018 and operates in nine other markets. It is meant to be similar to in-flight entertainment and is customized by time of day to offer news, streaming music, funny videos and a list of nearby dining options. Brands and businesses can promote themselves through advertising on the tablets, and drivers earn revenue when passengers use the tablets, which are installed in the cars at no charge to the drivers. 

The other company vying for an investment and relationship with investors is EndoVantage. The company provides a tool for surgeons to use 3D modeling and visualization to simulate treatment options and insertion methods for stents and other devices in patients with aneurysms. The goals are to reduce patients’ risks and improve outcomes. The technology is already being used at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. EndoVantage’s technology was developed by ASU engineers. Robert Green, president and CEO of the company is an academic associate and venture mentor at ASU, Brian Chong is the chief medical officer of the company and associate medical director of development at Mayo Clinic, which works closely with ASU. Haithem Babiker, EndoVantage’s chief technology officer, earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, master’s degree in biomedical engineering and a doctorate of philosophy in biomedical engineering all from ASU.

InvestU was formed by Arizona State University Enterprise Partners and the former Thunderbird Angel Network to provide funding opportunities for companies that need a financial boost as they scale their companies. The first InvestU pitch event was held in March with two ASU faculty-affiliated companies: CYR3CON and Breezing. Both companies matched with investors from the event and are working on deals.

Paulo Shakarian, CEO of CYR3CON, was grateful to raise funds for his cybersecurity firm where he lives and works after traveling to several other U.S. cities to meet with investors.

“It means a lot to have it all be a single ecosystem,” Shakarian said. “If you look around the country at other hubs like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Denver, all of these places have the right technology, an innovative university, entrepreneurs and capital. You need all of those things together in one place. It makes it easier to move quickly.”

Shakarian is an ASU Fulton Entrepreneurial Assistant Professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and specializes in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, which led to his company’s development in conjunction with ASU.

The other firm to match with investors in March was Breezing, which measures metabolism over time using a mobile metabolism tracker and a breathalyzer with biosensors, enabling users to implement a personalized diet and exercise plan to improve their metabolism. Breezing is being used to combat obesity, Type 2 diabetes and maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

Andrew Steele, CEO of Breezing and a member of the board of advisers for the HEALab at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said the InvestU event has enabled Breezing to advance to the next level. That means commercially launching a second generation tracker that will be used with physicians to help patients with obesity and other medical conditions and obtaining FDA approval for additional medical uses.

Breezing’s chemical sensor technology was developed by researchers in the ASU Biodesign Institute before it evolved into the ASU spin-off company.

To participate in an InvestU pitch event, business leaders must apply and have a connection to ASU as an alumni or faculty through the firm’s board members or executives, and the business must be at the revenue-generating stage of growth or show compelling traction. Company representatives pitch to an advisory board, and ASU students conduct company research about the startups for the investors. During the pitch event, the students present their research findings and the company representatives pitch their companies. Then investors express their interest in investing and conduct their own diligence in the following few weeks. No final deals are made at the event.

Companies participating in InvestU have customers and are looking to raise between $100,000 and $2 million, Choueiri said. Additionally, they are looking to build relationships through investors’ connections, enter new markets and acquire additional customers.

Investors must be accredited and typically have an affinity to ASU as donors, faculty, staff, alumni or their family members.

This event is open to the public.

If you go:

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 20 

Where: ASU Fulton Center, Sixth Floor, Lincoln Room, 300 E. University Drive, Tempe


Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications, ASU Enterprise Partners


ASU graduate completes degree with hopes of creating more accessible mental health resources

May 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

ASU Online student Shauna Hughes has been hard at work achieving her lifelong dream of earning a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. ASU Online student Shauna Hughes ASU Online student Shauna Hughes plans to continue with graduate school and become a licensed mental health counselor. Download Full Image

Hughes was originally an English major, but as she neared the completion of her degree, she decided to follow her passion for making therapy more accessible to all by switching to psychology. After discovering EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Hughes was inspired to reignite her college journey and complete her degree.  

As a mother to two teenagers — one, a college freshman studying psychology in their home state of Florida — Hughes wanted a degree program that was completely online but still matched ground school programs in quality. This factor played into her decision to attend Arizona State University.

“The professors online are the professors on campus — that’s significant,” said Hughes. “I recently had a professor who is a researcher and is teaching the class in tandem, which makes me feel like I’m getting a high-quality education.”

Hughes plans to continue with graduate school and become a licensed mental health counselor.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: As an English major as I got closer to finishing my degree, I knew I might be limited in career choices as an older adult. I was interested in making therapy accessible to more people using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It’s a form of therapy that is used to deal with PTSD and is a very effective. When I learned about it, the idea of providing it to more people was exciting.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: One of the biggest things I learned while at ASU was in my psychology courses about the differences between genders and the foundations in human sexual behavior.

I learned a lot about the variations in these classes because many people don’t feel comfortable talking openly about these subjects. I know that what I learned is something I can use with clients someday and I will have more of an understanding on these important topics when they come into my office.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There were many reasons ASU was the right school for me, but two of the biggest were that the faculty teaching online courses are the same professors who teach students on campus. I also knew I wanted to select an accredited university.

ASU has a very well-structured platform which is super easy to navigate through the courses, scheduling and any student need. I found that the library search engine was helpful by providing a place where I could find tons of access to peer-reviewed journal research to utilize in my papers.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: There were so many professors I adored. However, I can say Dr. Lee Spencer was very influential with her in-depth lectures in her special-topics course on foundations of human sexual behavior. I also enjoyed Dr. T.M. Barrett, who provided extensive lectures about abnormal psychology which helped spark many interests.

Dr. Laura Clemons taught a course focused on why critical thinking is so important. I didn’t know at the time that the class would change the way I think and write because I found myself considering the other side’s arguments and what a valid argument looks like, which I feel greatly improved my writing style.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Stay on top of things, keep yourself organized and set aside time to study. Online there is a lot of reading so it’s important to make sure you take breaks and try not to cram, or it will not sink in.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: I have a little corner on my back porch by the pool with a fountain. I also like to study in the kitchen — which I call the heart of my home. Being in the kitchen allows me to still interact with my family and check in with everyone.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to grad school and will work toward my master’s degree as a licensed mental health counselor.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would start centers that train and specialize in EMDR to help with trauma and PTSD. I would want to make it possible that more mental health care providers have access to free training in EMDR.

Carrie Peterson

Associate Director, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University