protect your lunch

A Houston entrepreneur is thinking out of the box with smart lockers for food and personal items

Dommonic Nelson wants to make sure everyone's lunches are safe. Photo via cleverboxcompany.com

Someone kept taking Dommonic Nelson's lunch. A Texas Southern University student living at home and commuting from Greenspoint, Nelson only had a few minutes to scarf down his lunches between studying Maritime Transportation. But regularly, he'd reach into the community refrigerator on campus, only to find, well, nothing.

One night, Nelson was in the shower, wondering why his lunch had been taken again, and the long journey to Clever Box Co. began. He barged into his grandfather's room — it was 2:40 in the morning — and told him he had an idea for a series of high-tech boxes designed for storing various things. The boxes could keep personal items (the Stash Box) and packages (the Happy Box) in large companies and coworking spaces, and for people to quickly pick up their food from restaurants without having to wait in line (the Yummy Box). If Nelson couldn't get his lunches back, he was going to make an entire business on making sure no one got stolen from again.

"We're taking ordinary lockers normally found in office buildings and retrofitting them to make them smart lockers," Nelson says.

It wasn't a bad idea, given a 2017 Peapod study that claims 71 percent of Americans have had their lunch stolen. But like most late-night shower ideas, Nelson's didn't work. Firstly, it wasn't a locker — he was stuck on refashioning community refrigerators, and no one wanted to buy in. He denied a $70,000 job offer in the maritime industry to make $14.50 an hour at Southwest Airlines, which gave him free travel. That took him all over the country, and finally, on one trip to California, where a last-minute meeting with Michael Feinberg, whose firm Bluefish Concepts was featured on CNBC's Make Me A Millionaire Inventor, crushed his dreams. You have the right idea, Feinberg said, but the wrong formula. It seemed like nobody needed a smart refrigerator. On the flight home to Houston, Nelson cried.

Nelson had entered entrepreneurship early. As a kid, he found his stepdad's old CDs and asked to try selling them. He made $500 that first week, bought a CD burner, and made $4,000 in three months by ripping tunes from beloved artists and selling them on the cheap. He was making cash in a place where there wasn't a whole lot of it — and he didn't do it by reinventing how music was sold; he just made it a more efficient process for his Greenspoint neighbors.

It was the same idea that would save Nelson's forthcoming business. Back in Houston, some of Feinberg's words echoed in his head: We already have refrigerators, we already have lockers. Why not just enhance them? Nelson didn't need to reinvent the wheel, or the refrigerator. He just needed to bring high-tech efficiency to lockers, to make them more secure but still easy to use.

One day, not long after getting back from his California meeting, Nelson ordered food online. He was busy, trying to work through the kinks in the design and figure out new markets, but he had to wait in line at the restaurant. He thought about the way that many restaurants treat pick-ups as an honor system — leaving them out for anyone to take, just like he had left his food in a refrigerator at school. There had to be a better way to do this, he thought. So he made one.

The rest of 2018, Nelson and a software engineer locked themselves in an attic and coded the design for the Yummy Box, which won Station Houston's Demo Day Pitch Competition that December. The next month, Clever Box Co. received its first order and exhibited their technology at Station Houston 3.0. There, they found Station Houston was struggling to develop a way to store parcels — Nelson collaborated with the start-up hub and designed the Happy Box, which sends messages to users when they have a delivery.

"We looked at it as a great opportunity to diversify our offerings," Nelson says.

Recently, Nelson finalized the pilot program for the Yummy Box at SouthernQ BBQ, a decade-old East Texas barbecue joint that has gained attention in the last few years as one of Houston's best spots.

Clever Box Co., too, is getting awards. Last month, Nelson took home one of 26 Houston Business Journal Fast 100 and Innovation Awards. And right now, he's raising $200,000 in revenue and hopes to expand his teams of three to make smarter and more secure locks for all of the boxes. Eventually, he hopes to partner with food delivery companies like Grubhub and Uber Eats for residential spaces. He imagines a Yummy Box in the lobby of his own apartment building — a driver will drop it off, he says, and Nelson will take the elevator down, walk to the locker, and open it up. Inside, he'll find his lunch. No one will have taken it.

Ticket-holders can watch a taped performance of the Alley Theatre's 1984. Photo by Lynn Lane

With the city of Houston — and much of the rest of the state — issuing stay-at-home mandates, cultural events and institutions have closed their doors. But, thanks to a little innovation, many are now providing online options.

Arts groups all across Texas are using technology to stream concerts, opera, dance, and even museum tours for free during the coronavirus quarantine, and we're adding more here as they come in.

The Alley Theatre
Patrons can watch a taped performance of the recently canceled 1984. Current ticket holders will be sent a password protected link, and those who would like to still watch are welcome to purchase tickets to gain access to the link.

Houston Symphony
You can listen to Houston Public Media broadcasts and national broadcasts anytime on the symphony's website, or tune in to I Heart Radio to hear selected albums.

ROCO
The Houston-based music ensemble has its entire archive of audio and video recordings available online, including a number of its more than 100 world-premiere commissions (and several of which were also included in the Grammy-winning debut album Visions Take Flight).

Ars Lyrica Houston
The early music ensemble has created two new series: Musical Moments and Concerts & Conversations. All of their content will be aired on their social media platforms as well as newsletters and YouTube. They will be posting new content on Mondays and Fridays at 10 am.

Fusebox Festival
The Austin festival originally scheduled for April 15-19 will now go digital; keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates about how to watch and listen.

Black Fret
Celebrate the Austin music scene in a safe and responsible way through a livestream of Austin Love & Lightstream, a local response to the cancelation of SXSW. Closed to the public and taking place on a sterilized outdoor sound stage at Scholz Garten, Austin bands and personalities will be livestreamed six hours a day starting at 4 pm each day, beginning March 17. Viewers can access the Facebook Live stream from the Black Fret website.

Dallas Theater Center
A video was taken of the final dress rehearsal for American Mariachi, a new work by José Cruz Gonzalez about a young woman who forms the first all-female mariachi band in the 1970s, despite disapproving relatives and going against social norms. Patrons are encouraged to pay-what-you-can — starting at $15 — to receive a link and a password to access the recording within 24 hours. Purchasers will have up to two weeks to watch the video. Dallas Theater Center is allowed to sell the video up to the original close date of April 5, 2020; after that, it will be deleted. The number of videos for sale is the same as the number of seats available throughout the run, so patrons are encouraged to buy their "tickets" soon.

Avant Chamber Ballet
Watch the 360-degree world premiere video of 19th Amendment recorded on February 15, 2020, at Moody Performance Hall, spotlighting choreographer Katie Puder and composer Quinn Mason.

American Baroque Opera Company
Enjoy the full-length production of La Serva Padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

Dallas Museum of Art
Browse more than 25,000 works of art from all cultures and time periods.

Thin Line Fest and Dallas VideoFest
The Denton-based multidisciplinary festival will be streaming its selection of documentaries online March 25-29, while Dallas VideoFest will host its Alternative Fiction festival April 3-5. Featuring a curated collection of over 50 documentary features and shorts, Thin Line Fest's film division will stream all screenings and Q&A sessions online. Attendees will be able to login at www.thinline.us and then choose which "theater" to stream live. The fest will still hold its Photography & Film Award Ceremony, which will be live-streamed on March 29.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap. Click here for latest update to the story.

If you have a virtual concert or artwork that can be enjoyed from home during this time, email lindseyw@culturemap.com and we'll add you to the ever-growing list.