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$3B fund closes, top movers and shakers, and more trending Houston energy transition news from the week

Here are the top stories for the week within Houston 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 the closing of Ara Partners' $3 billion fund, a report on Houston as a climate tech hub, and more.

Houston energy tech PE group raises $3B third fund

Ara Partners has announced the closing of its third fund. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based private equity firm that focuses on industrial decarbonization investments has closed its latest fund.

Ara Partners has secured over $3 billion of new capital commitments for its Ara Fund III, closing $2.8 billion of limited partner commitments, which represents an oversubscription of its $2 billion initial target.

"We are grateful for the extraordinary interest in Fund III demonstrated by Ara's increasingly global, blue-chip investor base," Charles Cherington, managing partner of Ara, says in a news release. "The strong support from new and existing investors, is a testament to their confidence in our talented team, our investment strategy, and the compelling opportunities in the industrial decarbonization sector." Continue reading.

Houston energy workforce-focused startup raises $2.5M seed funding

Digital Wildcatters, founded by Collin McLelland (right) and Jacob Corley, just raised $2.5 million in funding. Photo courtesy

With $2.5 million in fresh funding, Digital Wildcatters is on its way to keep empowering the evolving energy workforce.

Digital Wildcatters, a Houston company that's providing a community for the next generation of energy professionals, has closed its seed plus funding round at $2.5 million. The round by energy industry veteran Chuck Yates, who also hosts his podcast "Chuck Yates Needs a Job" on the Digital Wildcatters' podcast network.

"Our industry's survival depends on recruiting the next generation of energy workers. We must adapt to their digital, content-rich world, as we currently lag behind, like a VHS tape in a Netflix world. Digital Wildcatters is our path to modernization," Yates, based in Richmond, Texas, says in the news release. Continue reading.

Movers and shakers: Top executive moves in Houston energy transition of 2023

Promotions, corporate ladder climbing, and other top mover and shaker stories on EnergyCapital this year. Photos courtesy

From new board seats to internal promotions, this year marked a big one for some of Houston's energy leaders. Here were the top five most-read articles covering the mover and shaker news of 2023. Continue reading.

Report evaluates Houston's potential as a climatetech hub with 6 key takeaways

The Texas Climate Tech Collective issued its 2023 report tracking Houston's progress as a climatetech hub. Photo via Getty Images

Three Houston energy tech innovators sought to quantify Houston's growth as an energy tech ecosystem, and, after 200 survey respondents and dozens of interviews, they've created six calls to action for the city.

Taylor Chapman, Gabe Malek, and Deanna Zhang created the Texas Climate Tech Collective to issue the Houston's Climate Tech Ecosystem 2023 report. The trio revealed some of its key takeaways at Greentown Houston's Climatetech Summit last month.

"We wanted to understand how the city has evolved," Malek, who's also chief of staff at Fervo Energy, said at the event. "We went into this project with a shared belief that Houston has unique characteristics that set it apart from the other cities thinking about climate, and if we could really lean into those characteristics, develop them, and amplify them, we could help grow the ecosystem in Houston and build climate solutions ... to accelerate the energy transition." Continue reading.

City of Houston takes step toward resiliency with $1.7B project milestone

The plant has the capacity to provide the city with over 400 million gallons of clean drinking water daily due to the state-of-the-art intake pump system located 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston. Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office

A new project that will increase Houston's resilience in the face of climate change-driven storms has delivered.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Public Works and other water provider organizations celebrated the newly operational Northeast Water Purification Plant Expansion, which is the culmination of a $1.7 billion project.

The multi-year construction project began in 2017. The plant has the capacity to provide the city with over 400 million gallons of clean drinking water daily due to the state-of-the-art intake pump system located 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston. 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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