September 23, 2023



Eleven years to Elizabeth Holmes, former Silicon Valley star – North America

2 min read

Over 11 years in prison: this is the sentence imposed on the former Silicon Valley star Elizabeth Holmes for fraud in the management of her start-up Theranos, which promised a revolution in diagnostics in the medical field.
The entrepreneur risked up to 20 years. The prosecution had asked for 15, while the defense had proposed up to a maximum of 18 months.
Last January, a jury found her responsible on four counts and acquitted her on four counts of defrauding patients, which is harder to prove because the company’s former CEO did not communicate directly with them, a unlike what it did with investors, raising over $900 million. These include high-profile names, such as Rupert Murdoch, software mogul Larry Ellison, members of the families of former education minister Betsy DeVos and the founders of Walmart.
The prosecution had described her as a charlatan obsessed with fame and fortune. Instead, she testified for seven days portraying herself as a visionary pioneer in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley and as a woman sexually and emotionally abused by her former lover and business partner Sunny Balwani, on whom she inelegantly dumped all the faults of her. Holmes had dropped out of Stanford University after her freshman year to create her own start-up in 2003. Her winning idea was to propose a faster, less expensive and less painful technology to detect hundreds of diseases, from cancer to diabetes, by drawing a few drops of blood with a needle from the fingertip rather than with a syringe from the arm. Too bad that the machine, called Edison, didn’t work as promised.
But in the meantime many invested in his Theranos and mini laboratories spread everywhere, especially in the Walgreen and Safeway chains. The company came to be valued at nearly $10 billion. Holmes focused heavily on public relations, hiring personalities of the caliber of former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former defense ministers James Mattis and William Perry, and former Wells Fargo CEO Richard Kovacevich to his board. The manager also courted Bill Clinton and impressed then-Vice President Joe Biden, who visited her labs in 2015.
Such was her rise that Inc Magazine dubbed her “the next Steve Jobs” – of whom she was an admirer and emulate – while Forbes touted her as “the world’s youngest self-made billionaire” and Time listed her in the list of the most influential people on the planet in 2015.