mover & shaker

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.

“Dale’s addition further expands the energy transactional platform we’ve been building in Texas and across the country with our several partner additions this past year,” Archie Fallon, managing partner of the Houston office, says in a news release.

Smith will advise both lenders and borrowers in secured and unsecured credit transactions, which includes asset-based financings, acquisition and project financings, syndicated and structured financings (including tax equity), DIP and bankruptcy exit financings, and borrowing base facilities, letter of credit facilities, working capital facilities, workouts, and restructurings. Smith will also guide clients on the development and commercialization of hydrogen and ammonia facilities, carbon capture projects, renewable power generation facilities, and hydrocarbon facilities across the value chain. This will include gathering, processing, fractionation, transportation and storage facilities.

“Willkie’s dynamic Texas platform and growing national and international energy capabilities are a great fit for my practice and I’m delighted to be a part of that growth,” Smith said in a news release. “I look forward to working with the talented attorneys here to expand our transactional offerings to best serve the needs of our clients.”

Smith is the seventh lateral partner addition to Willkie’s multi-office energy team in the past year.

Willkie recently also announced Sarah McLean as a partner in the Corporate & Financial Services Department and Private Equity practice at the Houston office. McLean’s practice will focus on private equity transactions. Mostly the transactions will be acting for sponsors in making portfolio investments,exiting their investments, and growing their platform companies. McLean was a joint head of the US Energy industry group at Shearman & Sterling prior to Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and her experience in the energy sector includes 20 years.

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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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