Former American businesswoman, Elizabeth Holmes, in 2014, set up Theranos, a health technology company that soared in valuation after the company claimed to have revolutionized blood testing by developing testing methods that could use surprisingly small volumes of blood, such as from a finger prick.
By 2015, Forbes had named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America on the basis of a $9-billion valuation of her company.
She was found guilty of fraud. Post a series of journalistic and regulatory investigations, doubts were raised about the company’s technology claims and whether Holmes had misled investors and the government. Theranos vowed to revolutionize diagnostics with self-service machines that could run an array of tests on just drops of blood, a vision that drew high-profile backers and made her a billionaire by the age of 30. Prosecutors spent 11 weeks presenting over two dozen witnesses to back their argument that Holmes knew her technology did not work and that she “took steps to mislead investors and patients.”
The 37-year-old now faces the possibility of years behind bars.
The significant takeaway in this biotech fraud case also is seen as an indictment of the Silicon Valley culture. She was hailed as the next tech visionary on magazine covers. However, after the 2015 Wall Street Journal reporting that questioned whether Theranos’s machines worked as promised – and ultimately brought down the company – Holmes went on the offensive in the media.
The defense called only one significant witness, Holmes herself, as it argued the fallen entrepreneur had genuinely believed in Theranos’s vision, invested herself heavily in its success but had simply failed. For her part, she sought to shift some of the blame to Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, a boyfriend nearly two decades her senior whom she had brought in to help run her company. She fought back tears as she told jurors that Balwani denigrated her and forced himself on her sexually when angry — accusations that he has forcefully denied.
Balwani will stand trial separately for his role in the company’s operations and has pleaded not guilty.