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Houston-area entrepreneurs land on Forbes 30 Under 30 — and more things to know this week

Giga Energy's co-founders landed on Forbes 30 Under 30 — plus more things to know this week. Photo via gigaenergy.com

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: an event not to miss, a podcast to stream, and more.

East Texas entrepreneurs score prestigious 30 Under 30 recognition

Giga Energy co-founders Matt Lohstroh and Brent Whitehead secured spots on Forbes' annual 30 Under 30 ranking in the energy category. The Texas A&M University alumni founded the company in 2019. The startup's technology uses flare gas to generate clean and sustainable energy that is redirected into powering shipping containers full of bitcoin miners they put on top of oil wells.

Event not to miss

There's one last energy-related event for the year. On December 19, the UH Tech Bridge's Innov8Hub Pitch Day is your last chance of the year to network with industry experts, and discover the next big thing. Register.

Podcast to stream: Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, on the Houston Innovators Podcast

Houston is known as the energy capital of the world, and the industry is ingrained into Rice University's DNA — especially the university's business school.

"We are deeply connected — and have been for a long time," says Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business. "One of the five pillars of our strategy is to be the leading business school in the country for the studying and the advancement for the energy transition and decarbonization of the economy. We think we can be the premiere school for training people for this rapidly evolving field of energy and to promulgate great research."

Rodriguez shares more about what he's accomplished in his tenure as dean on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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