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Energy startup wins pitch competition, new exec named, and more top Houston energy transition news

A Houston startup secures a win at a local competition — and more energy transition news. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: It's been a busy news week for energy transition in Houston, and some of this week's headlines resonated with EnergyCapital readers on social media and daily newsletter. Trending news included news of clean energy deals, a global firm names a new exec, and more.

Houston company acquired by private equity​ firm, plans to expand support of energy transition

The deal and financial support will help Saber to expand its services within the energy transition, including the ability to build out renewables and battery resources amid the electrification of the U.S. economy. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based infrastructure services platform has been acquired by an energy industry-focused private equity firm.

Saber Power Services announced last month that it has been acquired by an investor group led by Greenbelt Capital Management from funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management. The acquisition was in partnership with funds managed by Schroders Capital, StepStone Group, and Wafra Inc., according to the company's news release.

Saber, founded in 2010, is an electrical services firm that provides design, construction, testing, and maintenance services and solutions across the energy spectrum — renewables, battery storage, utility, industrial, and energy infrastructure markets. The company's customers are located throughout Texas and the Southeast. Read more.

Global consulting firm names new Houston energy practice leader​

Alvarez & Marsal announced the appointment of Jay Johnson as senior adviser to its energy practice. Photo via alvarezandmarsal.com

A top global professional services firm named a Houston-based energy leader amid industry evolution and regulatory changes.

Alvarez & Marsal, or A&M, announced the appointment of Jay Johnson as senior adviser to its energy practice.

“I enjoy bringing together teams of people to solve the complex challenges facing companies today,” Johnson says in a news release. “I’m looking forward to working with A&M’s energy team to build leadership and capabilities to address industry challenges.” Read more.

Houston energy SaaS startup wins local pitch competition

Houston-based WellWorth was selected as the winner of this year’s Houston Startup Showcase. Photo via LinkedIn

The Ion hosted its annual startup pitch competition, and one company walked away with a win.

WellWorth, a financial modeling and analysis software-as-a-service company for the upstream energy sector, won the Houston Startup Showcase + Expo and secured a $5,000 prize. The startup's technology introduces a more streamlined approach to NAV modeling or corporate financial modeling for its users.

“Having worked in investment banking, I have seen firsthand how the limitations of Excel models and a lack of bespoke tools have led to inefficient workflows in upstream Oil & Gas finance," says Samra Nawaz, CEO and Co-founder of WellWorth, in a statement. "We decided to solve this problem by building a cloud-based platform that helps energy finance leaders improve decision-making around raising, managing, and deploying capital.” Read more.

ExxonMobil’s Low Carbon Solution president makes inaugural TIME100 Climate list

The Houston-based executive makes the list of along with John Kerry, Bill Gates, and more. Photo via exxonmobil.com

A Houston energy executive has made the cut on an inaugural ranking of top climate action leaders.

TIME magazine’s first-ever TIME100 Climate list, which highlights “100 of the world’s most influential leaders driving climate action in business,” and ExxonMobil’s president of Low Carbon Solution business Dan Ammann has made it onto the list.

“The real credit goes to the ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions team for the progress we’ve made so far,“ Amann says in a LinkedIn post. “It’s great to see the world recognizing that ExxonMobil has a major role to play in accelerating the world’s path to net zero.” Read more.

Transocean calls for energy innovators, extends deadline for submissions

Transocean is looking for Houston innovators to help them on their decarbonization journey. Photo via Transocean

A major energy corporation has put its feelers out for Houston innovators solving for challenges within the decarbonization of offshore drilling operations.

Transocean, a Switzerland-based offshore energy leader with its United States headquarters in Houston, kicked off its Transocean Open Innovation Challenge this fall. The original deadline has been extended to December 15, and the program is in partnership with the Ion. Read more.

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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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