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New corporate-backed program announced, startup raises $41M, and more top Houston energy transition stories

These are the most-read articles on EnergyCapital from the week. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: From a new solar energy tech hub to a major climate tech accelerator announcement for Houston, these are the top headlines that resonated with EnergyCapital readers on social media and daily newsletter this week.

Woodside Energy backs $12.5M clean energy accelerator for new technologies

Woodside Energy has committed $12.5 million to a new partnership with Rice University. Photo via Instagram/WoodsideEnergy

A global Australian energy company with its international operations in Houston has backed a new climatetech accelerator in partnership with Rice University.

Woodside Energy, headquartered in Australia with its global operations in Houston following its 2022 acquisition of BHP Group, has committed $12.5 million over the next five years to create the Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator.

"The goal of the accelerator is to fast track the commercialization of innovative decarbonization technologies created in Rice labs," Rice University President Reginald DesRoches says to a crowd at the Ion at the initiative's announcement. "These technologies have the potential to make better batteries, transitistors, and other critical materials for energy technologies. In addition, the accelerator will work on manufacturing these high-value products from captured and converted carbon dioxide and methane." Continue reading.

Houston entrepreneur crowdfunding for sustainable farming solution

Bart Womack founded Eden Grow Systems in 2017. Photo courtesy

Whether it’s on Mars or at the kitchen table, entrepreneur Bart Womack wants to change what and how you eat.

But the CEO and founder of next-generation farming startup Eden Grow Systems is seeking crowdfunders to help feed the venture.

The company evokes images of a garden paradise on earth. But the idea behind the Houston-based NASA spinoff came from a more pragmatic view of the world. Womack’s company sells indoor food towers, self-contained, modular plant growth systems built on years of research by NASA scientists looking for the best way to feed astronauts in space.

The company has launched a $1.24 million regulated crowdfunding campaign to raise the money it needs to scale and expand manufacturing outside the current location in Washington state. Continue reading.

Solar energy company to open new tech center in Houston

The new center will house Sunnova technologies, including a microgrid system powered by a grid simulator and a solar array simulator with the ability to replicate various grid and solar array conditions. Photo via sunnova.com

A Houston energy services company has announced the upcoming opening of a state-of-the-art energy testing and integration technologies hub.

Sunnova Energy International Inc. will open the Sunnova Adaptive Technology Center in 2024. The center, which will come sometime in the first quarter of the year, is part of Sunnova Adaptive Home, Sunnova Adaptive Business, and Sunnova Adaptive Community service offerings. Founded in Houston in 2012, Sunnova aims to “create a better energy service at a better price.”

The ATC will house Sunnova technologies, including a microgrid system powered by a grid simulator and a solar array simulator with the ability to replicate various grid and solar array conditions. An interchangeable inverter and battery test beds, and a fully-functioning model home equipped with full-sized appliances, including a range, oven, refrigerator and HVAC system, will also be part of the new ATC. Continue reading.

Houston energy analytics company garners $41M in growth capital

Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and CCUS projects. Photo via Getty Images

A group of investors has chipped in $41 million to purchase a minority stake in Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics, a provider of energy data and intelligence.

Boston-based venture capital firm Elephant Partners led the series B round, with participation from Veriten, a Houston-based, energy-focused research, investing, and strategy firm, and EDG, a Metairie, Louisiana-based energy consulting firm. Several executives from the energy, information services, and software sectors also contributed to the round.

Founded in 2016, Welligence specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) projects. Clients include major oil and gas companies, as well as large investment banks. Continue reading.

New York law firm appoints another energy practice partner in Houston

Dale Smith, an energy finance and transactions attorney, has joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. Photo via Willkie.com

A law firm again expanded its Houston-based, energy-focused team.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP announced that energy finance and transactions attorney Dale Smith has joined the firm as a partner in the Corporate & Financial Services Department, which will be based in the Houston office. Willkie provides legal solutions to businesses that address critical issues that affect multiple industries and markets with 13 offices worldwide.

Smith was most recently a partner at Mayer Brown, and prior to law, he worked in the electric and gas utility industry as an analyst for Entergy. He currently serves on the Institute for Energy Law Advisory Board. He will manage energy clients in a broad range of transactions from upstream, midstream, and downstream oil and gas, renewable energy, power and energy finance deals. Continue reading.

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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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