ASU faculty who inspire: Eli Chmouni

October 04, 2022 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
Eli Chmouni is an entrepreneur and faculty lecturer teaching media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University. From first coming to ASU as a 19-year-old immigrant from Lebanon with only $600 to majoring in engineering and launching several successful startups, he embodies the American dream.

Chasing the American dream

In 2006, Eli Chmouni left his home country of Lebanon and headed to the U.S. As a 19-year-old international student at Arizona State University, Chmouni was determined to chase the American dream.

“When I showed up, I only had $600,” Chmouni said. “But I thought, this is my chance to actually start something new.”

Coming from another country, Chmouni said he experienced cultural pressure around what degree and career to pursue.

“Being an immigrant, your parents want you to have the highest options of success. Culturally, that is to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” explained Chmouni. “I wanted to go to school for theater production and film production, but it was a big taboo to go after the arts or a category that may not generate a six-figure income.”

Putting aside his desire to pursue an arts degree, Chmouni decided to study mechanical engineering at ASU. However, upon graduation, Chmouni found his way back to the arts, opening a media production company. Drawn to entrepreneurship, he saw it as an opportunity to return to his true passion and apply the principles he learned in school to his business.

“I really like the idea of creating something from scratch, so I think that's why I got into the world of entrepreneurship and the world of startups,” Chmouni said.

Since starting his first company, Chmouni has gone on to launch several other successful startups. In 2016, Chmouni was named a Top 35 Under 35 Entrepreneur by The Arizona Republic, with several of his startup companies also having won awards over the years.

In this installment of Beyond the Screen, ASU faculty lecturer Eli Chmouni discusses his journey in higher education both personally and professionally.

Becoming a media entrepreneurship teacher

It’s been said you have to fail before you can become successful. Chmouni, like many entrepreneurs, has experienced this both in school and in his businesses.

“I actually took an entrepreneurship course as a student and I failed it,” Chmouni recalled. “I was so bad at it, because it was all definitions and examples and answering quiz questions, and that's not what entrepreneurship is.”

He refers to entrepreneurship as a contact sport. “You're going to get burned, you're going to get hurt, you're going to cry twice a week — it's an emotional rollercoaster,” Chmouni said.

Inspired by his experiences, Chmouni chose to teach a media entrepreneurship course at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. His idea was to give students an experience of what it’s actually like to take an idea and turn it into a business. Students in his entrepreneurship course have to launch a real business in 7.5 weeks, making it both challenging and educational.

Chmouni found that giving students room to experiment and work out an idea is a great way to learn about entrepreneurship and business. “You're in a safe environment that if your business does not make it in this class, it's okay. What's the worst that could happen? Go ahead and try it again.”


Going beyond the screen

Chmouni feels that what sets ASU Online apart is the faculty’s ability to engage students beyond the computer screen. He explains that, with many professors utilizing Zoom hangout sessions, office hours and other engagement opportunities, students feel an emotional connection to their courses.

Chmouni also appreciates just how diverse ASU Online’s students are. “The interesting part about online students is you're going to get a variety of different backgrounds and different experiences, and if you just focus on the students as a human being and what they're going through, it's super exhilarating to know that you get to engage with them on these different levels,” Chmouni said.

Even after students have completed Chmouni’s class, he welcomes communication. He enjoys reconnecting with them later in life, getting to see them in a professional environment. “It's so interesting to see these people flourish beyond the classroom and understand that they have a whole life just beyond taking my class.”


Reflecting on a decade at ASU Online

Having taught at ASU Online for 10 years, Chmouni reflects on what’s kept him engaged with what he does. “I’ve stayed at ASU Online for all these years because every year I have the opportunity to challenge myself,” he said. “ASU has given me the ecosystem to try new things as a faculty member, explore new programs and build new things.”

Chmouni sees what he does as ever-evolving. “I don't think I've ever had two years that are exactly the same, and that's allowed me to get excited for each year and about what I'm going to do for the next decade here at ASU.”

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