Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > News

What Is Theranos? Inside the Biggest Silicon Valley Scam

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Silicon Valley: the birthplace of the biggest tech advances in the world. Google, Apple, Facebook, just to name a few, were born there. It’s the dreamland for anyone who works in tech or is aspiring to become a world-changing developer.

Since she was a young girl, Elizabeth Holmes had been described as being incredibly ambitious. One of her biggest life goals was to become a billionaire at some point in her lifetime. The aspiration made continued to dictate her life once she arrived at Stanford University which is located in the heart of Silicon Valley. During her freshman year, Elizabeth thought to create a device that could detect any and all diseases a person might have with just a drop of blood.

Elizabeth presented her idea to Dr. Phyllis Gardner, who said that such a device was next to impossible. However, Elizabeth didn’t take the advice and she did what many successful Silicon Valley moguls had done. She dropped out of college to focus on her project which would eventually become Theranos. Her career path became meeting after meeting: she talked to potential investors and tried to convince them to support her er company. It was the future of medicine.

Elizabeth Gardner had wanted this project to come to life because she wanted everyone to have an inexpensive and quick blood test. It would mean that diseases, illnesses, and other possible problems could be detected early on and treatment could be started. She publicly stated her motto as being:  “We see a world in which every person has access to actionable health information at the time it matters. A world in which no one has to say ‘if only I’d known sooner,’ a world in which no one has to say goodbye too soon”. With this, Elizabeth won many investors over. She managed to get $6 million and officially launch Theranos in 2004.

Holmes wanted to be the next Steve Jobs, so she started to dress like him. She started wearing black turtlenecks and hired former Apple engineers to work for her in Theranos. Some of the big name employees were Avie Tevanian, Steve Jobs’ former right-hand man, and Ana Arriola. Besides hiring former Apple employees and changing the way she dressed, Elizabeth also changed her voice. She opted to speak in a lower baritone to make sure to come off as more serious and to make her feel seen and stand out in Silicon Valley. Apparently, the people who worked for her knew about her change in voice, but the general public discovered this when Elizabeth used, accidentally, her real voice in interviews.



A post shared by Finance 101 (@finance101_magazine) on

In 2014, Elizabeth Holmes became the youngest female billionaire. Her fortune escalated to $4.5 billion after Theranos secured a $400 million dollar deal with Walgreens. This deal meant that Walgreens would start using the Theranos tests. More so, it meant that Theranos would have Wellness Centers, inside the Walgreens, where you could get your bloodwork done. That’s when everything started to collapse.

The blood tests didn’t work. The tests misdiagnosed patients and couldn’t do everything that Elizabeth had said it could. Elizabeth Holmes, her employees, and her technicians had known for years that Theranos didn’t work at all. Elizabeth and her team kept it hidden from the public and her investors.

She had scammed all of them, and in all of that, she had accomplished her one goal: to become a billionaire.

In 2016, Theranos was under investigation.

In 2018, Elizabeth and Theranos president Ramesh Balwani were officially taken to court and sued by every major company that had invested in Theranos. They’re both being charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. Their official trial is set for April 23, 2019, and if they are found guilty they could face up to 20 years in jail and a fine of $250,000 each with a potential total of $2.25 million plus any additional restitution to the victims that they scammed. Many wonder how they will defend themselves. According to The New York Times, “[they] will put the government on trial by claiming that regulators improperly brought actions against the company for its blood analysis technology”.



A post shared by Celeb Courtroom Couture (@celebcourtroomcouture) on

Elizabeth Holmes’s true motive for creating all of this is unknown, but the popular theory and the most plausible one is that she did it all to gain money, fame, and power. While she did accomplish all of those goals, it all fell apart because it was built on a lie and while she will now live in infamy, she has lost everything she created.

You can find more information about this case, which I’d be considered one of the biggest scams of the past decade and possibly the century:


Gabriela is currently an English Major at the University of Puerto Rico. When she isn't reading fantasy books, she can be found writing them. She is a Vegetarian Hufflepuff that loves zombie fiction, an irony in itself. An aspiring filmmaker, she one day dreams of winning an Oscar for her films.