Ted Chen, 31, is an engineer, entrepreneur and science policy expert who is determined to build a sustainable future. Co-founder of one of the fastest-growing energy artificial intelligence (AI) companies in the region, he also works with youths around the world as a Science-Policy Interface Focal Point for the United Nations (UN). He is the recipient of the NTU Nanyang Outstanding Young Alumni Award and is the youngest person to receive the prestigious Singapore Energy Award. He shares life lessons entrepreneurship has taught him.
Everyone has their limitations, and that includes our parents too. We can’t expect our parents to always have the right answer, especially when we progress from asking them for help in our schoolwork, to asking them about youth engagement strategies in emerging countries – as it was this in my case.
It took me a long time to finally understand that I had to discern for myself which pieces of their advice bore more weight than others.
Through my schooling years, I studied under many teachers, completed many curriculums, and received various professional certificates. But I only started learning how to think critically when I met my first business mentor, which was after I started my company.
For example, instead of searching for answers, he taught me how to ask the right questions. Instead of concluding that something cannot be done, he taught me to start by asking what can be done first.
I’ve learnt that suffering is an opportunity for us to develop some grit and to refine our capabilities. For example, failing two subjects during my undergrad years because I juggled between work and school had taught me a precious lesson on time management. Those who taught me might have deemed me a failure.
A year after graduation, I decided to challenge myself again. This time around, I completed my full-time Master’s with distinction while raising half a million dollars for my startup at the same time. Fast forward to today, I’m managing a fast-growing for-profit company while working on multiple non-profit initiatives in partnership with the UN and various charitable organisations.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any of our world’s pressing challenges (e.g. climate change, globalisation and geopolitics, food security, etc.). Before even coming up with a solution, it often takes years just to truly understand the root cause and the full complexity of the problem.
Minimally, a decade is a good timeframe to set for someone who wishes to undertake any global challenges. I’m currently in my eighth-year mark working on solutions for large-scale decarbonisation, and we are just getting started with early adoptions of our solutions in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines, and Dubai.
Almost everyone is talking about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) these days. When I first encountered this subject back in 2015, it was hard to find satisfactory answers from the experts in the region when I had questions on how to measure and track the achievement of the SDGs.
Eventually, I learnt that SDGs originated from the UN, which led me to take a flight to New York City to visit the UN Headquarter in search of enlightenment on the topic. This was the beginning of my journey specialising in SDGs.
Today, I’m an expert consultant to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Science-Policy Interface Focal Point for the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY). As part of my work, I work on connecting youth around the world and across the various UN organisations, making sure that the voice of the youth is being heard inside UN processes.
I also sit on the Generation Connect Visionaries Board for International Telecommunication Union (ITU), where its goal is to engage global youth and encourage participation as equal partners alongside the current leaders of today’s digital change.
In summary, my work with the UN focuses on implementing different Sustainable Development Goals – an area I once found hard to find satisfactory answers about. Being involved in the UN system has not only created a movement but helped me gain more insight on the matter!
I struggled for the first six years of my sustainability journey. When COVID-19 hit in my seventh year, I thought I had exhausted all my options and was at the end of my entrepreneurship journey. Some of my mentors noticed the stress I was under and casually chatted with me to find out what I was going through.
Once they understood my predicament, they got involved immediately and managed to improve my company’s situation in a matter of weeks. Retrospectively, I could have definitely asked for help a lot earlier instead of getting stuck in a downward spiral for months on end. All I had to do was reach out for a helping hand.