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Meet TEX-E's new exec, a deadline not to miss, and more Houston energy transition things to know

Houston energy transition folks — here's what to know to start your week. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: Start your week off strong with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a roundup of events not to miss, a Houston energy executive to know, and more.

Calling all energy tech startups

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and TEX-E have opened applications for their Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek, set to take place in the Agora program on March 20.

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. The fast-paced competition is designed to connect energy startups with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service providers.

Energy ventures for all tracks of the competition are asked to apply online by Feb. 9. Read more.

David Pruner named executive director of Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E)

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. Read more.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • Future of Energy Summit is Tuesday, February 6, at AC Hotel by Marriott Houston Downtown. Register.
  • The De Lange Conference, taking place February 9 and 10 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, is centered around the theme “Brave New Worlds: Who Decides? Research, Risk and Responsibility” this year. Register.

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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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