Elizabeth Holmes is the founder of Theranos. File picture: Photo, Jeff Chiu
Elizabeth Holmes is the founder of Theranos. File picture: Photo, Jeff Chiu

The start-up founder that almost hacked your health

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Sep 5, 2021

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Imagine the world in a pandemic using Theranos technology to test for disease and later realising all the tests were faked. Such a nightmare would have been a reality if Elizabeth Holmes had not been stopped in her tracks to building a unicorn health tech startup.

This week marked the beginning of her fraud trial. If convicted, Holmes, now 37, faces up to 20 years in prison, plus $2.75 million in fines, as well as restitution to be paid out to victims. She was “the world’s youngest selfmade female billionaire”, trumpeted Forbes magazine.

The “next Steve Jobs”, said Inc, another business magazine that put her on the cover.

Holmes is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud for allegedly engaging “in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors, and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients”, according to the indictment.

Holmes is accused of using “a combination of direct communications, marketing materials, statements to the media, financial statements, models, and other information to defraud potential investors”.

And they were some pretty heavy-hitting investors.

Theranos boasted a dazzling array of A-list supporters, including Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, Walmart founders the Walton family, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch

Theranos’ board members included former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

During her heydays, she managed to deceive many bright people to think that her medical machines would change the world. But that wasn’t the case.

A report by the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou revealed a damning report that alleged the company was, in effect, a sham – that its vaunted core technology was actually faulty and that Theranos administered almost all of its blood tests using competitors’ equipment. She has never previously told her side of the story. Now we may get to hear it.

Her case remains an important warning about how society should engage with tech companies whose technology may have an impact on people's lives. This is even more important now as the technology sector is undergoing a major shift towards health tech.

Now we are likely to see start-ups creating technologies that will be used for more than just buying, trading and learning. There should be more scrutiny for tech start-ups to ensure that we never have another Theranos situation.

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