Two years ago, Steven Chen, the CEO of Treeswift, tweeted how excited he was to show off some of his recent work in robotic forestry. He attached a YouTube video on autonomous UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) flights and mapping in forests. In March 2022, Treeswift received seed funding amounting to $4.8 million from various investors led by Pathbreaker Ventures. The company co-founded by Chen, Michael Shomin, Elizabeth Hunter, and Vaibhav Arcot has made significant progress and is seeking to build a next-generation forest monitoring system. As he works towards achieving this goal, let’s tell you more about Chen.
1. He is Studying at the University of Pennsylvania for a PhD
On his LinkedIn profile, Chen revealed that he is currently finishing his Ph.D. in computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. With an acceptance rate of 9% as of 2020, the institution is highly selective, and without a GPA of at least 3.9, there is no way they will accept your application. Chen must therefore have performed exceptionally well in his undergraduate degree for him to be accepted into this Ivy League university.
2. His Advisor at the University of Pennsylvania is Professor Vijay Kumar
Chen chose the best mind in the field of robotics when he picked Kumar as his advisor while undertaking his Ph.D. Kumar is world-renowned, having served at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as the Assistant Director of Robotics and Cyber-Physical Systems. He is now the dean of Penn Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. With Kumar's guidance, Chen is sure to succeed in his research interest – deep learning for robot perception, communication, and action in the real-world environment.
3. He is Extremely Bright
Besides his ongoing doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, Chen also studied at Northwestern University. This private university is among the most prestigious institutions in the world. As a result, its acceptance rate is also quite low at 9.3% as of 2020. It is very competitive and expects applicants to have a GPA of 4.1. For this reason, it is easy to conclude that Chen must have been a very bright student who is likely to graduate top of his class upon completion of his Ph.D.
4. His Background is in Finance
While at Northwestern University for his undergraduate degree, Chen studied math, finance, and economics. After graduating, the entrepreneur disclosed during an interview with SNP CEO Maureen Taylor that he got a job at an options-trading firm. He worked as a derivatives trader, specializing in trading equity options, municipal ETFs (exchange-traded funds), and agriculture options.
5. What Made Him Switch to Technology
Despite acknowledging that he had a good job that he loved, Chen was not passionate about finance. Instead, his interest lay in technology; thus, he switched to it. However, it took him a while since those he sought advice from told him to look at the lifestyles of people he admired before changing careers. His advisors advised that the people Chen looked up to would enable him to decide if their lifestyles were what Chen wanted for himself.
6. The People Who Influenced Him The Most to be An Entrepreneur
Chen decided to become an entrepreneur after looking at his role models in finance. He said that the people whose lifestyles he looked up to were the founders of the finance companies he admired. Chen was inspired by how the CEOs were visionaries who turned their visions into reality by remaining focused on their goals and pursuing their passions, undeterred. The fact that such founders ensured they fulfilled their dreams themselves made Chen realize that entrepreneurship was the only way to see his goals in technology come true.
7. He Loves the Sandbox Mentality
He believes that in entrepreneurship there are two options: following the train tracks or living in your sandbox. Chen explained that with train tracks, you know where you are supposed to go. Everything lies in front of you, and all you have to do is follow the path. He said that some career paths are like train tracks, but he prefers being in a sandbox. With the sandbox, you are in your cocoon, and people are not aware of what is happening within that sandbox. It is up to you to figure out which direction you want to take without someone else interfering, an approach that fueled his entrepreneurship journey.
8. How He Founded Treeswift
When Chen began pursuing his doctorate, he researched the impact robotics can have in helping us understand our environment using the data in the world. He was curious to know how we could be sure of what happens around us. Therefore, he started building algorithms to enable the collection of data in his places of interest and process the information to gain a deeper understanding. Since he had also been advised to start a company that would help him achieve his goals, Treeswift enabled him to fulfill this purpose.
9. He Kept Surprising His Parents with His Decisions
Although it is said that an apple does not far from its tree, sometimes children do not follow the path that their parents would expect. Chen is one of such kids whose parents kept being surprised by what he did. For instance, he studied Arabic, and his parents wondered where the interest came from. Even before they could understand him, he got a scholarship to study abroad. Chen’s decision to study finance took his parents by surprise, and so did his passion for technology and robotics. He explored so many interests that his parents finally understood that he would do whatever he desired.
10. He Embraces Uncertainty
The future is never promised regardless of how much people try to predict it. This is a fact that Chen embraces because it enables him to adapt by learning continually. He explained that being naïve about something brings some excitement when learning it for the first time.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee