Odessa native helps bring electricity to Africa

Growing up in Odessa, Jose Ortega said he never thought about what his peers would achieve later in life.
Today, he sees New England Patriots offensive tackle Marcus Cannon’s athletic achievements and, on the other end of the spectrum, his childhood friend Danny Marquez helping provide electricity to Africa and being accepted to Harvard.
While Cannon was a few years older than Ortega and Marquez, Ortega said it is kids like them, who didn’t have a lot of resources growing up, that still were able to achieve great things.
“Both of my parents are from Chihuahua, Mexico. They were immigrants. They didn’t get a high school diploma, didn’t graduate from high school, didn’t go to college,” Marquez said.
The schooling was arguably not the best in Odessa and there were a lot of temptations in middle school and high school, he said. Staying focused on school was a challenge. He knew he wanted to attend college after high school, but there were challenges that came along with that, as well.
“I didn’t know how it functioned, what credits were, how to apply, where to apply, how to pay for it,” he said. “It was pretty pioneering. I had to talk to a lot of people, counselors, teachers and read up on it.”
He ended up studying civil engineering at Texas Tech, but by the end of the program he knew he didn’t want to be a civil engineer. Marquez then became a drilling completion engineer in the oil and gas industry, working for BHP Billiton in the western and southern parts of the state and in Arkansas.
“Then I decided that really is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Marquez said.
Working for a big company, he didn’t get to see what kind of impact he was making. He said he wanted something more purposeful.
As he began looking for smaller companies to join, he started talking to an acquaintance he’d met, an engineer who graduated from Massachusetts Institution of Technology. An entrepreneur, the acquaintance started his own company, Nearshore. Marquez then started working with the company, and has been for about a year, helping convert flare gas to provide power to Chad, Africa.
“It’s a landlocked country; one of the poorest countries in the world,” Marquez said. “Moundou is the city where we will be building the power plant. It is the second most populous city of The Republic of Chad and located in the south of the country.”
Only about 4 percent of the population in Chad has access to electricity. The company is currently building a power plant that will produce 10 megawatts with 10 generators per year.
“You and I use 10 to 11 megawatts a year,” he said, adding the project will only produce about 100 megawatts per year for an entire country of 13 million people.
Marquez said the company also plans to build a power plant that will produce 40 megawatts per year, but since it is more complex, it will likely not be ready until 2018. The 10-megawatt project is expected to be up and running in May.
While the work comes with challenges of its own, including not being a modernized country, little technology and a language barrier, since it is a Frech-speaking country, Marquez said at the end of the day, when they’re able to build the power plant, it will help improve economic rates, literacy rates and truly impact the lives of people.
In the midst of all this, Marquez realized another dream he could make come true.
“Growing up, I always used to think I would go to Harvard, but by the time I got to high school, reality set in,” he said.
Harvard was in another state, far away, it was expensive and very competitive. As he decided to pursue his MBA, he “had an epiphany.” He could apply to Harvard and he did. He applied to Harvard, MIT and Stanford, got rejected the first time, but applied again and was accepted to both MIT and Harvard.
“It took a lot of energy, effort and a lot of hard work,” he said. “So it was quite the journey over the last year and a half.”
Marquez plans to take a step back from his work in Africa during his first year of school, which begins in August, with hopes to continue in the summer and his second year.
Looking back, he said the biggest takeaway for him was that even though he grew up in Odessa, not knowing too much about the world, he still pursued a path of always wanting to improve and learn.
“You realize no matter your circumstances, where you are, where you came from, if you put in the hard work and effort, you can succeed,” Marquez said.
Ortega said it all comes down to the same principles they all grew up with.
“If you really want something and you want to do something great and be the best, it’s going to take time and it’s going to take failure,” he said. “I think that growing up at that time, the community and the core foundation and principles, that the leadership at Odessa High had really made us believe we could do anything we wanted to.”