Ten years ago, Elizabeth Holmes’ biotech startup, Theranos, was valued to be worth $10 billion. Five years ago, she was indicted for wire fraud. Finally, today, Holmes reported to prison to begin serving her sentence of 11 years and 3 months.
It usually doesn’t take so long after an indictment for a defendant to be found guilty and sent to prison. But the fall of the woman formerly hailed as the next Steve Jobs has been painfully drawn out, with Holmes’ legal team playing every card in the deck to delay this inevitable day.
The story of Theranos is all too familiar now: A young Stanford dropout set out to revolutionize healthcare with cutting-edge blood testing technology, scored high-profile investors and fawning press coverage, but it all came crashing down in 2015, when Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou revealed that Theranos’ technology didn’t actually work. To make matters worse, unsuspecting patients were getting blood tests on Theranos machines, endangering their health with false positives for conditions like cancer, HIV and even a miscarriage.
Since then, the unraveling of the now-infamous blood testing startup has been a long, messy process. Hopefully this is the last Theranos-related coverage that will appear for a while, with both Holmes and co-conspirator Sunny Balwani behind bars. So, if you’re looking to catch up on what’s been happening since Theranos was exposed for its dangerous medical practices, go forth and read.
Lawsuits, layoffs abound (2016–2017)
Once investors realized that Theranos was all smoke and mirrors, things got real litigious, real quick. The U.S. government began its investigation of Theranos in 2016, and over the two years that followed, Theranos continued making headlines, but they were no longer so complimentary.
- Ex-Theranos customer files a lawsuit claiming faulty blood tests contributed to his heart attack (July 2016)
- Theranos closes its labs and wellness centers, lays off 340 (October 2016)
- A hedge fund is now suing Theranos, citing “lies, material misstatements, and omissions” (October 2016)
- Walgreens is now suing Theranos for $140 million in Delaware (November 2016)
- A prominent Silicon Valley investment banker is suing Theranos, and seeking class-action status (November 2016)
- Theranos slashes another 41 percent of its workforce (January 2017)
- Arizona plans to sue Theranos over faulty blood tests (January 2017)
- Theranos closed its last remaining blood-testing lab after it reportedly failed an inspection (January 2017)
- Theranos is offering investors Elizabeth Holmes’ shares if they promise not to sue (March 2017)
- Theranos gets $100 million in debt financing to carry it through 2018, with some caveats (December 2017)
The dissolution of Theranos (2018)
Looking back at those two years of headlines, it’s a wonder that Theranos even made it to 2018. Finally, the company dissolved, and Holmes and Balwani were officially charged with fraud by the U.S. government.
- Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes charged with massive, ‘years-long fraud’ (March 2018)
- Theranos reportedly lays off most of its remaining employees as it tries to avoid bankruptcy (April 2018)
- Elizabeth Holmes reportedly steps down at Theranos after criminal indictment (June 2018)
- WSJ reports that Theranos will finally dissolve (September 2018)
Theranos’ downfall became not just a major story in tech, but a fascination of Hollywood. Within months of the company’s end, a documentary about Theranos screened at Sundance, ABC greenlit a documentary and podcast, and Hulu ordered the mini-series that would become “The Dropout.” Apple was working on a Theranos movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, but after seeing “The Dropout,” Lawrence felt like there wasn’t much more to add and left the project.
Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani go to trial (2021–2023)
Holmes and Balwani were supposed to be tried for fraud in June 2020, but the trial was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then, Holmes became pregnant with her first child, further delaying the trial. Though the two executives were supposed to be tried together, Holmes’ legal team successfully moved for separate trials, alleging that Balwani had abused Holmes while they had been secretly dating for several years. Holmes would later testify about how this abuse impacted her actions as CEO of Theranos, but ultimately, the jury was not litigating the relationship between Holmes and her COO. After a long deliberation, Holmes was found guilty on 4 out of 11 counts of defrauding and conspiring to defraud investors, but she was found not guilty of any charges related to defrauding patients. At Balwani’s trial, which took place months later, he was found guilty on all counts.
- Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes testifies in her own criminal trial (November 2021)
- Elizabeth Holmes convicted of 4 of 11 fraud counts in Theranos trial (January 2022)
- Former Theranos exec Sunny Balwani is found guilty of fraud (July 2022)
- Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison for Theranos fraud (November 2022)
- Theranos exec Sunny Balwani sentenced to 13 years in prison for defrauding patients and investors (December 2022)
- Elizabeth Holmes is denied request to stay out of prison (April 2023)
- Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes isn’t headed to jail tomorrow after all (April 2023)
- Time’s up for Elizabeth Holmes (May 2023)
What can we still learn from one of the most infamous startup implosions of all time? Well, don’t do fraud. But also, we have some other ideas. Here are our takes on what Theranos says about the tech industry at large, and how it figures into the history of Silicon Valley.
- How the myth of the ‘girlboss’ harms emerging women in tech
- Elizabeth Holmes, left to her own devices
- Holmes’ sentencing sends a clear message that the startup ecosystem must be built on good faith
- What’s left to learn from Theranos? Have friends.
- The Theranos fiasco shows how much startup advisory boards matter
- I get it, Elizabeth Holmes
- The next Theranos should be shortable