February 25, 2014

Shaun Moore ’10 and Nezare Chafni ’10 met as SMU sophomores at the Cox School of Business. Moore was preparing for a job in the financial sector and Chafni had his eye on politics. Fast-forward to January 2014, when they introduced CHUI, their “smart doorbell” with facial recognition capabilities, to the world at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Nezare Chafni '10 (left), holding the CHUI device, and Shaun Moore '10

Nezare Chafni ’10 (left), holding the CHUI device, and Shaun Moore ’10

So how did the young alumni end up as partners in an emerging technology business? Despite going their separate ways after graduation from SMU, they stayed in touch.

As an undergraduate, Moore played on the Mustang football team and was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He readily admits that beyond “playing with gadgets,” he had no particular interest in technology as a student. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in finance, he returned to his native Chicago and worked for Merrill Lynch.

After earning a B.B.A. in financial consulting from SMU, Chafni moved back to his parents’ home in Morocco and launched a campaign for Parliament.

But the friends who had collaborated on student projects never let the distance stop their conversation. When talk about opportunities in the tech sector turned serious, they joined forces to create a software company.

Moore says his Cox education provided the knowledge and confidence to take on the challenge of starting a new venture. “Classes that focused less on theory and more on doing really helped me,” he says.

chuideviceOut of the gate, the business partners knew they were on the right track. “We took a few apps to market,” Chafni says, before facial recognition technology struck the right chord. “When we started work on this, we gradually refocused our attention.”

CHUI quickly took shape, and they applied for a provisional patent in July 2012. They say the unusual name is derived from the Swahili word for “leopard” – an animal known for its agility and adaptability. They feel those traits have served them well as they move forward.

The sleek CHUI device, which is mounted outside a home’s front door, captures the facial images of visitors and instantly sends them to the homeowner’s cell phone. “For example, if Mom’s picture pops up, you open the door. If it’s an unwanted visitor, you don’t have to get up from the couch,” Chafni says.

Homeowners also can program the device to recognize frequent visitors and deliver prerecorded messages. “If you’re leaving a key for a friend under the doormat, for example, when CHUI recognizes your friend’s face, your message about the key will play,” Chafni explains. “The technology is 99.6 percent accurate, and we’re working on secondary layers of security.”

While initially geared toward residential customers, CHUI can be deployed in settings as varied as office complexes, University buildings and classrooms, say its creators. Residential customers can now preorder the device without being charged until it ships in the fall.

Although they could have set up shop anywhere, they returned to Mustang country because, as Moore says, “with our friends and ties to SMU, Dallas is definitely home.”

Sarah Bennett ’11

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