the view from heti

HETI, collaborators open pitch competition applications for annual CERAWeek event

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and TEX-E have opened applications for their Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek, set to take place in the Agora program on March 20.

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. The fast-paced competition is designed to connect energy startups with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service providers.

Ventures will be showcased across three industry tracks, spanning materials to clean energy. Industry experts and investors will judge the pitches, and the top three ventures from each track will be named at the conclusion of the event. The pitches from energy ventures will include a university track, the TEX-E Prize, highlighting the innovation of five Texas student-led energy startups. With mentorship leading up to the competition, these student startups will compete for $50,000 in cash prizes.

“The goal of the TEX-E Prize is to support, encourage and inspire students across the state of Texas to pursue entrepreneurship as a means of reducing emissions and building a healthier, more resilient society,” said David Pruner, executive director at TEX-E.

Energy ventures for all tracks of the competition are asked to apply by Feb. 9. More details about eligibility can be found at alliance.rice.edu/EVD.

“The Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek bring together key members of the energy ecosystem, investors and startups to showcase innovations and emerging technologies that create value from the world’s transition to low-carbon energy systems,” said Jane Stricker, senior vice president at the Greater Houston Partnership and executive director of HETI. “We are thrilled to partner with our ecosystem partner, Rice Alliance, on this exciting event at CERAWeek and build on the momentum of the last few years.”

“In addition to the access to investors and awareness at CERAWeek, this is an invaluable opportunity to pitch in front of active investors, corporates and key players in the energy industry,” said Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance and vice president for industry and new ventures in Rice’s Office of Innovation. “The Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek is a platform designed to foster innovation, collaboration and investment in the ever-evolving energy landscape.”

Learn more about this year’s pitch day here.

Trending News

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.

---

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Trending News