The Scandal of Elizabeth Holmes


In 2014, the health technology company, Theranos, was at an all-time high. Run by now 38-year-old billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, people from all over the world wanted to test their new, bright idea. With her team, Holmes had come up with a new system for blood testing, where a person would prick their finger on a needle to get blood tests done instead of having to get excessive amounts drawn from the body. The only problem: they didn’t have the technology to execute it. Hiding this secret from the public, Elizabeth Holmes began a scandal that lasted for over two years. 

The journey of Theranos started when Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at age 19 to begin planning and creating the company. The company’s goal was to run blood tests using blood gathered from the prick of a finger, and with advanced technology, be able to detect medical conditions. Holmes got the attention of many investors but only took their money on one account: she wouldn’t have to reveal how Theranos’ technology worked. Investors agreed, and by 2014, she was named the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire.  

For the next two years, Holmes and her team at Theranos lived their lives in secrecy. Not only did she hide the fact that she had non-existing technology, but she changed parts of herself to keep up the facade. Claims went out that Holmes lowered her voice to appeal to the predominantly male-dominated business, and became obsessed with Steve Jobs – she started to dress like him, decorated her office with Jobs’ favorite furniture, and never took vacations. Holmes’ employees were not provided  the best working conditions either– they were forced to work long, hard hours that were being tracked, and were kept from their families due to working so late into the night.

Things were going well for Holmes until October of 2015 when the  Wall Street Journal published an article criticizing Theranos’ technology. They claimed most of the blood being drawn with Theranos’ technology is processed the same way as blood drawn from the arm, as opposed to the prick of a finger, which was Theranos’ whole goal. Holmes fought back claiming the report was “factually and scientifically erroneous.” Her actions were stronger than her words though, and later that month, the FDA released two reports citing 14 concerns with the company’s “uncleared medical device.” Theranos was officially in trouble. 

By January of 2016, Walgreens pulled back from its deal with Theranos amidst Federal regulators confronting the company’s issues. If the company didn’t fix its problems, the CMS said they would ban the laboratory business for two years, which eventually ended up happening. Holmes spent those next two years trying to find new investors, but her time searching got cut short when she was charged with massive fraud in March of 2018. The fraud charges were for the use of fake technology that ended up putting many lives at risk. It was time for Holmes to go to court. 

Rumors spread that Holmes was going to use mental illness as her defense in court, along with her claims of being in an allegedly abusive relationship. The original trial date was set for July 2020 but was delayed a year due to COVID-19. However, in March of 2021, it was released to the public that Holmes was pregnant, and was due in July of 2021, pushing back the trial further. The trial was finally able to start a month later, and in January of this year, the jury came to a verdict. Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty on four of 11 federal charges; one count of conspiracy to defraud investors, and three tied to specific investors. Because of this, Holmes is set to face up to 20 years in prison along with a fine of $250,000 plus restraint for each count. 

The scandal and speculation of Elizabeth Holmes caused a roar in the media– so much so, that it grabbed the attention of many filmmakers. In 2019, filmmaker Alex Gibney released the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Theranos in about two hours. In light of the recent trial, Hulu released an original series this year titled The Dropout. Starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, this eight-episode series shares more about what really happened with Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and how they managed to rise and fall in a matter of years.