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Electric vehicles to take center stage at annual Houston event

Buckle up for the 2024 Houston Auto Show this week, which will prominently feature EV tech. Photo via Houston Auto Show/Facebook

Houston Auto Show, which is a long running event for auto enthusiasts, will feature its largest electronic vehicle representation to date this year.

The event will feature an EV Pavillion and Evolve Houston’s electronic showroom at the January 24 to 28 event at NRG Center. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about what it means to go the EV route from environmental impact, performance, cost effectiveness, and other factors.

This year, vehicles like Nissan's Ariya Platinum+ AWD, Chevrolet’s Bolt EV, Ford’s F-150 Lightning and others will be on display at the EV Pavillion. CenterPoint Energy, Reliant, and the University of Houston were part of Evolve's 2023 showroom.

A recent study from SmartAsset ranked states with the most electric vehicle chargers by looking at the closest equivalent to a trip to the gas station, in terms of “refueling” – per capita. Texas is behind other similarly-sized states.

“Houston maintains some of the lowest population density and longest commute distances of major U.S. cities, and we have an immense amount of business and goods that flow through Houston,” Casey Brown, executive director and president of EVOLVE, previously told EnergyCapital. “We see a landscape that can uniquely achieve larger financial and environmental benefits of EV technologies. One way that we share these benefits is being the Presenting Sponsor of the Houston Auto Show.”

Houston Automobile Dealers Association Executive Vice President and event organizer RoShelle Salinas has noted there has been an uptick in EV demand for these events since the first one debuted at the 2020 show.

Evolve Houston, which was founded in 2018 through Houston’s Climate Action Plan, is one of the organizations leading the way in the EV space, as the company still aims for its goal to have half of the vehicles in the city be electric by 2030. Evolve assists and funds those looking to make the transition to electric with the Grant Tracker, which aims to make it easier to find funding opportunities, and assist with current grants available to organizations and individuals that are committed to a goal of zero emissions. The tracker serves as a tool to assist with purchasing an EV and charging equipment.

The Biden administration recently announced it is awarding $623 million in grants to help build an electric vehicle charging network across the nation. Grants will fund 47 EV charging stations and related projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico, including 7,500 EV charging ports according to officials. Texas is expected to see a chunk of that funding. Last year, the city of Houston approved $281,000 funding for the expansion of free electric vehicle rideshare services in communities that are considered underserved by utilizing services like RYDE and Evolve Houston.

“Evolve Houston has been a sponsor for 2 years and their display has been a great addition to the show because it is not only educational, but there is also a chance for people to test drive vehicles,” Salinas says.

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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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