Stem Cell Therapy For Pets

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Scientists discovered how to extract stem cells from human embryos in the early 2000s. Stem cell research got many people excited but there was a lot of controversy and suspicion surrounding this breakthrough. We haven’t heard much about stem cell research since then, but there are some medical professionals are using the technology: veterinarians.

More than 12,000 animals have been treated with stem cell therapy in the U.S. since 2004. The trend started with racehorses but is now available to domestic animals.

The industry is worth $20 million a year – that’s small compared to the $2 billion dollars Americans spent on pharmaceutical drugs for their pets in 2014. But the industry is expanding fast. There are three companies offering stem cell therapy for pets. A new facility opened in New York in August.

Tony Yuan owns a company called Mobile Stem Care in San Antonio. He says business is good because a lot of people are willing to spend serious money on their pets.

Roger Burton is one of his customers. A long-time hunter, Burton noticed that his Lewellin Setter, Reece, was limping out on the fields. He had never really thought about stem cell therapy for animals, but his doctor convinced him that the risks were minimal.

Burton was impressed with the results of the treatment. “Since the next day I have not seen her struggle at all, this is one happy dog,” Burton says. “She was on two forms of pain reliever, we just took her off of it and all I saw was progress.”

Burton paid upwards of a thousand dollars for the treatment. “I haven’t run across a situation yet where I haven’t done a procedure because of cost,” Burton says. HIs veterinarian, doctor Rachel Smith says she’s never seen patients so willing to spend money on their pets – just think of memory foam dog bed and pet health insurance.

Tony Yuan says that sentiment translates into medical procedures, so the margins for animal stem cell therapy are good. He says it would take him about $20 to bring stem cell therapy to humans.

Doug Frantz teaches bio-medical engineering at the University of Texas San Antonio. He says it will probably be another 10 years before humans can be treated with this type of therapy – and that’s a good thing.

“There’s a lot of regulations when you’re making that jump from veterinary medicine to medicine for humans,” Frantz says, “You really don’t have to have that regulation for animals because the FDA is not really interested in regulating those to that level.”

For the FDA to approve a drug or medical procedure for humans, it has to be better than the existing gold standard. For animals, the procedure has to just be proven safe. Scientists around the world are running hundreds of clinical trials proving the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in humans – and that is going to take a while.

That doesn’t stop people like Roger Burton from daydreaming about getting the same procedure as his dog. “I have a torn meniscus in one of my knees and I would love to have it done today,” Burton says.

But that’s not going to happen anytime soon without FDA approval.


Is There Room For Another Fitness Tracker? Texas Firm Is Counting On It


I did two versions of this story, one for NPR and one for the Slack Podcast.

Here is the NPR version that aired on Black Friday:

For startups the first holiday shopping season may help to make a business. Texas entrepreneur Peter Li has much at stake on Black Friday as he tries to gain a foothold in the wearable fitness market.

And here is the Slack version, it’s much more focused on the entrepreneur.

For startups the first holiday shopping season may help to make a business. Texas entrepreneur Peter Li has much at stake on Black Friday as he tries to gain a foothold in the wearable fitness market.


It’s been a great learning experience to do versions of the same story for different outlets. It’s really helped me understand that there isn’t some ideal way to do a story – it’s all dependent on the editor and what they want. Being able to adapt to different editors is a great skill for any reporter.

Tech Gurus Teach Food Entrepreneurs The Recipe For Success


Get the full story on NPR.

San Antonio is one of the country’s emerging tech hubs. It’s also home to a rich culinary scene. Now city officials are trying to bring both communities together through a program called Break Fast and Launch.

The program pairs emerging food entrepreneurs with technology mentors who teach them business. The tech mentors don’t have culinary backgrounds, but they know how to get a startup off the ground. The idea behind Break Fast and Launch is to take some of that vibrant startup energy and inject it into San Antonio’s food scene. It’s one of several “culinary incubator” models springing up across the country.

Break Fast and Launch was started last year with city and federal funding. Thirty entrepreneurs went through the competitive program last spring. Munirah Small is part of the fall cohort that started in September. Last year, the 44-year-old mom quit her job as a customer service representative at AT&T to start a cake company calledSweet Themes.

“The best way to describe my cakes would be a delicious edible centerpiece,” Small says.

She says she found a lot of business through church and community groups. Baking is now her full-time job, and she has plenty of repeat customers. But after accounting for her expenses, there’s not much money left over — certainly not enough to pay herself a regular salary, she tells me. So Small applied to Break Fast and Launch to figure out what she could be doing better.

The eight-person cohort meets once a week in a designated part of a public library to talk business strategy with different mentors. When I first met up with the group in October, they were talking to Mike Girdley, the founder of a popular programming boot camp called Codeup.

Girdley has no experience in the food industry. In fact, he’s never tasted anything whipped up by the entrepreneurs before him. Today they’re talking about a common business mistake: pricing your product too low.

“You’re going to price it way too low, Girdley tells them, “because you’re seeing it from the price of a technician. You’re not necessarily seeing it from the perspective of a customer, right?” The question these entrepreneurs need to ask themselves, he says, is “what value are you giving to the customer?”

Small sells her cakes for between $35 and $175 each, depending on the size, ingredients and design. That puts her in the same price range as a grocery store bakery — not her gourmet competitors. Girdley says if Small accounts for the value of her time, she’s actually losing money on every cake. He tells her, you need to be chargingthree times as much.

A sampling of Munirah Small's cakes. "The best way to describe my cakes would be a delicious edible centerpiece," she says.


A sampling of Munirah Small’s cakes. “The best way to describe my cakes would be a delicious edible centerpiece,” she says.

Girdley says another lesson food entrepreneurs can pick up from the tech world is how to market their products with a story — the way Apple has long marketed its products to the creative class.

“People don’t necessarily buy what your product is. They’re buying into your story — the vision of how you’re making the world a better place, or how you’re changing people’s lives,” Girdley says.

Small might be a baker, but Girdley says she’s not actually selling cakes: She’s selling a complete experience. “They’re not buying cakes from you, they’re buying interactions with you,” Girdley says.

After two hours at Break Fast and Launch, Small walks out with optimism and Kanye levels of confidence. She proclaims, “I’m the best cake service in the city!”

Three weeks later, I visit Small in her small apartment kitchen to see whether she has implemented the changes her mentor advised her to make.

As Small mixes the buttercream frosting, a cloud of sugar rises from her stand mixer, making her entire apartment smell sweet. Her little oven has been working around the clock. And there are so many cakes cooling in the fridge that she doesn’t have any room for her own food. It’s a sign that business has really picked up.

A lot has changed since we last met. Small has almost tripled her prices, and she’s started marketing herself as a designer of custom, gourmet cakes. She’s been targeting the market for weddings and quinceañeras — a coming-of-age tradition, popular among many Latinos, to celebrate when a girl turns 15. These affairs can be as lavish as weddings, and Small has been going to expos, convincing women that her gourmet creations will impress their guests.

She’s also using social media to promote herself and hosting cake tastings for potential clients. Earlier this month, she was the subject of a feature story in her local newspaper.

Small says something surprising happened when she raised her prices. “People were more apt to be interested than before, when I was undercharging myself,” Smalls says. “It’s kind of crazy how that works!”

At first, Small was worried about how her repeat clients would react to her price hikes. She explained to them that now that she’s an established business, she needs to charge more. It turned out, most of her repeat clients were OK with the new prices, she says. Overall, the demographics of her clientele are shifting: She’s now making larger cakes for weddings, quinceañeras and big corporate parties.

Of course, not every customer was on board with the higher prices. “I have some that have dropped off, they’re like ‘you’re too expensive,’ ” says Small. “And that’s OK, because when I’m at the mall, I can’t shop at every store — not right now, sure can’t. And it’s no harm, no foul.”

Small is baking nine cakes in the next 48 hours. The smallest — a two-layer chocolate cake that feeds eight people and takes her two hours to make — used to go for $35. Now she’s selling it for $85.

“I’ve stopped taking that relaxed approach to it,” Small says of her business strategy. And she says she’s glad she reached out to the tech community for help.

“Analytical strategy is universal. You just have to have a system — whether it’s computers nerds, cakes and cookies — you still need to have a system in place to make it work,” Small says.

And, yes, she’s now paying herself — and making a 35 percent profit, she says.

She’s still getting mentoring from Break Fast and Launch — only now, the focus is on what to do with her newfound profits. Her next goals: to get out of her tiny kitchen and into a commercial kitchen space, and to hire five people to work for her company full time.

The App That’s Uber for Gasoline

2516437322_c1f34ef31d_zGet the full story on the Texas Standard

Lots of entrepreneurs see laziness as a business opportunity: There’s grocery delivery, dry cleaning delivery, fast food. Now you can add gasoline delivery to that list.

It’s like Uber for gasoline – except it’s perfectly legal. Serial entrepreneur Wisam Nahhas and his business partner wanted to start an app with a service component. He thought of the one thing he dreads every week.

“We sort of figured, ‘how about gas?’” Nahhas says. “We hate going to the gas station. Why can’t gas be delivered to you?”

So this month Nahhas launched FuelMe: it’s a fleet of three trucks with trailers full of gasoline. Drivers buy gas from a distributor every morning and go car-to-car filling up tanks.

“One of our goals is to be the world’s largest gas station,” Nahhas says .

It works like this: customers use the app to signal that they want gas, and leave their fuel cap open when they park. Nahhas or his employees get the alert and drive to the car. The FuelMe folks set up some safety cones and a mat to catch spills, then they unroll the hose and fill up the tank.

Nahhas says he knows exactly what you’re thinking.

“It doesn’t sound legal… That’s the first thought we said and then we quickly started researching, looking into it,” he says, “We were like, it doesn’t seem like it’s illegal – seems like if you can get the right permits for your tanks and the right licenses for your drivers it seems like it’s a doable thing. Sure enough it was.”

Nahas says getting gas delivered is no more dangerous than getting a fill up at a regular station. But can it be a good business?

Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University thinks maybe not.

“I think it’s unrealistic. I would expect the demand for the services of FuelMe to be fairly limited, so I don’t know it’s an interesting concept, but only time will tell if it’ll work,” Weinstein says.

Right now FuelMe charges customers a $5 delivery fee, plus the price of gas. Nahhas says he’s averaging 100 customers per week. The best customers? Women.

“Both men and women value their time but we have seen that women generally are probably less price-sensitive to this because…they hate the gas station,” Nahhas says.

Right now FuelMe is only available on the University of Houston campus. That’s the type of place the margins for this type of business make sense right now: places where thousands of cars are parked in the same area, like universities, airports and big tech campuses.

“When we structured the whole thing we envisioned it as an employee perk because at the end of the day it’s an employee perk that nobody else can offer,” Nahhas says. “We’re the only ones that offer this type of service, so if they’re interested in doing it we have a model to where they cover the five dollar delivery fee for employees and the employee just pays the gas price.”

Gas is what economists call a utility goo; there’s a limit to how much gas a city needs. That means if Nahhas succeeds in his dream of becoming the Citizen Kane of gas in Texas, some gas stations might go out of business. Historian Dwayne Johnson thinks that would be a real shame.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia about gas stations, about the gas companies,” Johnson says. “There’s still folks that have great loyalties to certain gas companies … and there’s a lot of interest in them. It’s probably going continue to stay that way,m because they are disappearing so rapidly.”

Jones says Texas is one of the few states where you can find a lot of really old gas stations, and they’re cultural landmarks. But at his mobile pumping station, Wisam Nahhas says he keeps filling up a lot of the same tanks week after week. Which leads him to think his customers – at least – aren’t all that nostalgic for the good old days.

Texas Budget Winners and Losers of 2015


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Border Spending

“The border funding was substantially increased, this time we ended up giving about $800 million to the border for border security, and I think that’s almost more than $300 million [more] than we did the last session.” — Rep. Sylvester Turner from Houston (D)

Medicaid Spending

Eva de Luna Castro, budget analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says the $61 billion legislators budgeted for the next two years of Medicaid almost certainly won’t be enough. “What basically happened was the full amount of cost for Medicaid isn’t in this budget that they passed–they left medical inflation out, so that’s like assuming that your rent isn’t going to go up in this year. You know it probably will be, but you just aren’t going to deal with it right now.”

Correctional Officers

Turner says they were big winners. “They received a pay boost of 8.8 percent,” he says. “That was certainly needed, because the prison system has been facing a vacancy rate of anywhere between 3,000 to 3,500 correctional officers mainly because we have not been able to compete with the private sector.”


Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, says the legislature funded the Department of Public Safety with general revenue and left gasoline tax revenues for the Department of Transportation to maintain the roads. But…

“…Well, I mean, it’s an additional $1 billion a year in roads which is a good thing, however TxDOT estimates they need anywhere from $3 to $5 million additional each year just to maintain the current level of congestion.”

Tax Cuts
It’s a mixed bag depending on who you ask.

“Tax cuts will have a good impact,” Craymer says. “Puts more money in people’s pockets that helps stimulate the economy.”

But de Luna says the cuts are a bad thing. “If you looked at where the tax cuts—where the benefit goes—the franchise tax, for example, was about $2.6 billion of that roughly $4 billion in tax cuts that the legislature made,” de Luna says. “A third of that franchise tax cut goes to out-of-state. It doesn’t even help companies here in Texas.”

Dress-Over-Pants Fashion Crazy Nothing New: It’s Pakistani


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Commentator and Houston Fashion Designer Sameera Faridi says the hot trend that A list celebrities are wearing this summer is a trend that you’ve been able to see in Houston’s Pakistani neighborhoods for years.

For the fashion bloggers that are not aware, Faridi says Pakistani women have been rocking the dress-over-pants look long before A-list celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker layered up.

“We’re actually very excited to see this amazing trend catching up…this is going to be the look for the summer. It’s a very particular cut of the top and the pants,” Faridi says. “It’s really nice to see how simple the cut is, yet it is actually a derivative of a dress from another culture.”

What’s Stopping Texan Millennials From Buying Homes?

3021807878_9e17014d16_bGet the full story on the Texas Standard

Despite low prices in the oil patch, the housing market is still looking very strong through much of Texas. And with Texas cities ranking among the best places for millennials to live, members of this now aging generation want to pass an important milestone: homeownership. The instant-gratification generation is drumming up plenty of business for companies willing to accommodate their shopping style.

Almost a third of Texans are under 30. By comparison, Baby Boomers make up one fifth of the state. And now, a study by the Urban Land Institute has found that more than half of all young adults 19-36 want to own a home someday. Deborah Brett co-authored the study.

“Generation Yers are still very much interested in homeownership,” she says. “Most of them see themselves as homeowners, just not right now.”

What Brett calls generation Y, other people call millennials. If every person in this group who wanted to buy a home bought one, this would be the largest home-buying generation in history, just by its sheer size.

But for many millennials, homeownership seems like a far-off dream.

“I think the ability to become a homeowner is tougher than it was in prior generations,” Brett says.

In some big cities like Austin – where the real estate market has been at historic highs – it’s actually cheaper to rent than buy a home. Houston and in Antonio are headed that way – Thanks to rising home prices there too.

Martin Walner manages high-tech boarding houses for recent grads. One’s in Austin. He says most of his residents want to be homeowners one day, but he’s not sure that will happen.

“I think a lot of people want to own a home at some point in their life, because they see it as a goal in their life one of the check boxes to reach, but especially single people,” Walner says.  “They wouldn’t want to have a home that early on because there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it and I think a lot of it is also jobs, it’s a very competitive job market out there.

Plus, millennials aren’t very handy. A third of the young homeowners polled in the study said they have no idea how to do necessary maintenance and repairs. Twenty percent said being a homeowner costs way more than they thought it would.

That means there are a lot of business opportunities there. Rick Orr runs a website that’s kind of like Pinterest for home listings.

“They’re very much bringing the industry forward in allowing for instant gratification from everything from finding homes to getting a quick response to whether or not we can go look at the listing on Saturday,” Orr says.

These apps and websites become even more popular in such a hot real estate market.

Texas Payments Are Still Waiting For BP Payouts

2678453389_b997dd3496_bGet the full story on the Texas Standard.

British Petroleum has set aside a $20 billion trust to settle claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. So far, Texas received more than $18 million for restoration projects along the coast.

But while the state is being compensated, individual plaintiffs in Texas have had a much harder time getting the money they say they deserve.

Charles Herd is a maritime lawyer in Houston.

“By my last count we have 224 clients in the BP oil spill and about 17 percent of those have been paid to date – which means that 83 percent have not been paid,” Herd says.

Herd says the clients that have been compensated have gotten checks from anywhere from $7,000 – $133,000. Most of them work in the seafood industry.

Economist Charles Mason was a witness in the U.S. civil trial against BP. He says shrimpers were especially hard hit by the spill.

“Imagine that a shrimper coming out of East Texas in the Gulf Coast works his way along the Gulf from west to east, harvesting shrimp,” Mason says. “Now he has to go farther to find viable population, so there’s extra cost associated with that – maybe the quality of the shrimp is suspect.”

Mason says the extra cost involved trickles down through the rest of the Texas Gulf economy.

“Someone who runs a restaurant and they find that they can’t access the quality of seafood from the Gulf that they were once able to – or there’s a perception amongst patrons that the quality is suspect – so they take a hit, their workers take a hit, the places where those workers went to shop, they’re probably going to take a hit and these effects are kind of going to spiral out,” Mason says. “They’ll interact and weave their way through the entire fabric of the community. All that stuff is ongoing.”

Despite that, the Gulf seafood industry isn’t doing too badly right now. It’s been buoyed by a strong dollar and locally-sourced foodie trends. Andrea Hance is with the Texas Shrimp Association, she says the impact of five years of deflated prices has still left a scar on the Gulf economy.

“It’s particularly challenging for fishermen and people who typically work with their hands and they’re not keen accountants – that’s not what they do,” Hance says. “And if they were keen accountants, they might not be fishermen.”

Hance says the industry lost more than half a billion dollars since the spill. In Texas, shrimpers have received less than $70 million from the settlement trust.

But if that number seems low, shrimpers have been the most successful in receiving compensation; most plaintiffs are still waiting.

The deadline for filing an individual claim for compensation from the BP trust is June 8.