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New energy networking app, events you can't miss, and more things to know in Houston this week

Events not to miss, a new app launches for the energy industry, and more things to know this week. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: It's a new week — start it strong with three quick things to know in Houston's energy transition ecosystem. Meet the new leaders of ERCOT, an app you probably should download, and events not to miss this week.

Energy networking: There's an app for that

This Houston-based media company launched a networking platform to help solve the energy crisis. Screenshots via apps.apple.com

The Digital Wildcatters have created a platform for individuals to get their questions answered by experts and a space for companies seeking qualified talent. Collide is structured to ignite the next generation of energy innovators, as Collin McLelland, co-founder and CEO of Digital Wildcatters, tells EnergyCapital.

“If you look at what we’ve done historically with Digital Wildcatters, we’ve built an extremely engaged community of energy professionals — it’s a next generation community, very young forward thinking professionals that are working towards solving the world’s energy crisis,” McLelland says.

The roll out of Collide has been intentionally gradual, McLelland says because they want to shape the user experience based on feedback from ongoing focus groups. Currently they have about 1,000 users and are examining how they can make the app valuable to them before providing the platform to a wider audience.

McLelland says there are two major issues within the energy sector that Collide hopes to address — a lack of knowledge about energy verticals and difficulty recruiting talent.

“What we really see with our platform is being able to bring people together where if you want to find a piece of information, you need to find a subject matter expert, or if you want to find your next job, it happens on the Collide platform,” McLelland says. Read the full story.

Upcoming must-attend events to put on your radar

Two events this month the energy transition community needs to know about. Photos by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

  • September 14-15 — The Ninth Annual Digitalization in Oil & Gas Conference will focus on digitalization, decarbonization, and innovation within the energy industry across five tracks: IoT, blockchain, digital twins, edge computing, and connectivity for upstream, midstream, and downstream operators.
  • September 21 — The Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum is an opportunity to learn about the latest emerging technologies, meet investors to seek funding, see promising companies, and more.

People to know this week

A quick who's who roundup from last week's EnergyCapital coverage. Photo via Getty Images

Missed some of EnergyCapital's news from last week? Catch up on who to know here.

  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, announced a reorganization amongst its leadership. Effective September 1, four ERCOT leaders have new titles and positions: Woody Rickerson has been named to the newly created position of senior vice president and COO; KristiHobbs, who previously served as vice president of corporate strategy and public utility commission relations, will replace Rickerson as vice president of system planning and weatherization and will report directly to Rickerson; BettyDay, vice president of security and compliance and chief compliance officer, has assumed oversight of business continuity; and RebeccaZerwas will serve as director of state policy and public utility commission relations, board liaison. Read the full story.
  • Launched in 2022, The Texas Southern University Division for Research & Innovation is spearheading the institutions efforts in attaining the highest-tier classification for research in higher education institutions. Michelle Penn-Marshall, who serves as vice president for the division, recently sat down with the Houston Energy Transition Initiative to talk about the university’s mission to become a leader in research and the long-term goals for engaging students in the energy sector and advancing the energy transition. Read the full story.
  • With over a billion cars currently on the road — each with four tires that will eventually end up discarded, one Houstonian is hoping to create the infrastructure to sustainably dispose of tire waste now and into the future. VibhuSharma founded InnoVent Renewables to establish production facilities that utilize a proprietary continuous pyrolysis technology that is able to convert waste tires, plastics, and biomass into fuels and chemicals. In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Sharma explains his plans to sustainably impact the tire waste space and his vision for his company. Read the full story.

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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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