the view from heti

Building the future of STEM leadership at Houston's energy-focused high school

The Energy Institute High School is uniquely positioned to build a lifelong foundation for those pursuing degrees and careers in the energy industry. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

Established in 2013, Houston’s Energy Institute High School is the first of its kind in the United States. Houston Independent School District (HISD), the nation’s seventh-largest school district, opened the innovative, STEM-focused magnet high school to support Houston’s increasing demand for STEM education and align with the city’s status as a major energy hub.

As the Energy Capital of the World, Houston is the leading domestic and international center for virtually every segment of the energy industry. It’s home to more than 4,700 energy-related firms, employs nearly a third of the nation’s jobs in oil and gas extraction, and boasts the world’s fourth-largest concentration of engineers. Houston’s economic vitality and growth is inextricably tied to the energy industry and depends on a strong STEM talent pool for the future.

The Energy Institute High School is uniquely positioned to build a lifelong foundation for those pursuing degrees and careers in the energy industry. The specialized high school prepares students for careers in the energy sector, as well as related fields such as environmental science and engineering, by providing a specialized learning experience centered around science, technology, engineering, and math. The Energy Institute High School integrates the energy theme into its entire STEM curriculum through a wide array of technology, hands-on projects, and experiential learning designed to inspire students and fuel continued interest in the energy field. And with up to 60% of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the school plays a crucial role in fostering equal education opportunities and breaking down barriers to success that many students face.

“As principal of the first high school devoted to preparing students for careers in the energy field, my goal is to deliver extraordinary firsts in learning,” said Lori Lambropoulos, Principal of Energy Institute High School. “I am thrilled to be the leader of a school that is participating in a thematic approach to the school experience—mingling the exploration of energy careers with cutting-edge education.”

Over the years, the school has cultivated partnerships with local energy companies, organizations, and institutions—including HETI founding members bp, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and lyondellbasell—to provide students with real-world experiences and coveted industry connections. The Energy Institute High School works closely with an advisory board comprised of energy industry leaders and higher-education professionals to provide programs and enrichment opportunities for students, including:

  • A biweekly guest speaker series
  • University campus tours
  • Field trip sponsorships
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • College scholarships
  • Internships and externships

These partnerships have provided students from Energy Institute High School with invaluable networking opportunities and firsthand insights into the energy industry.

As the energy industry shifts toward a more efficient and sustainable, low-carbon future, graduates from the Energy Institute High School will play a vital role in accelerating the energy transition, not only in Houston, but across the world.

Learn more about Energy Institute High School and how you can support their mission through Friends of Energy Institute.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

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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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