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Hearings for one of this year’s most anticipated trials in the United States begin Wednesday. At the helm of the accused: Elizabeth Holmes, an entrepreneur who, in her heyday, was presented as the new Steve Jobs and who, today, is accused of having orchestrated one of the most important frauds in the history of the Silicon Valley.
The case has all the ingredients to captivate America and enter the annals of the country’s judicial history. The first hearing in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, fallen Silicon Valley star and former CEO of start-up Theranos, begins Wednesday, September 8, with opening statements from her lawyers and the prosecutor, who accuses her of large-scale fraud and hopes to put her in jail for 20 years.
We will then know a little more about the strategy of each other in this trial which, in many ways, is one of the most anticipated of recent years.
Jennifer Lawrence in Elizabeth Holmes
First, because the Theranos affair has gone beyond the technological sphere to become a real cultural phenomenon in the United States. The book – “Bad Blood” – which traces the investigation that allowed Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou to bring down Elizabeth Holmes in 2015 is a bestseller since its release in 2018.
The story of Theranos, this start-up that promised to revolutionize blood tests and save millions of lives without ever proving the validity of its technology, has been the subject of multiple podcasts (“The Drop Out”, “Thicker Than Water”) and a successful documentary produced by the HBO channel (“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley”).
Even Hollywood has taken over the life of Elizabeth Holmes, who will be portrayed onscreen by superstar Jennifer Lawrence, in an adaptation of John Carreyrou’s bestseller slated for 2022.
No wonder the big film studios were won over by Elizabeth Holmes’ extraordinary career. In turn considered as the female equivalent of Steve Jobs, then lowered to the rank of Bernie Madoff (the financier sentenced to 150 years in prison for fraud, Editor’s note) from Silicon Valley, she was also accused, in the book “Bad Blood “, to be a psychopath who has played with the lives of thousands of people for her simple personal enrichment.
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Shortly after founding Theranos in 2003, Elizabeth Holmes announced that her machine could perform over 200 medical tests from a single drop of blood. A “revolutionary” technology allowing early detection of hundreds of diseases and facilitating the medical monitoring of serious pathologies such as cancer. Something to give hope to millions of patients with serious illnesses.
At least this is what Elizabeth Holmes promised to investors who jostled at the gate, allowing the young woman – who had embarked on the Theranos adventure at 19, without a diploma in her pocket – to become the first woman billionaire from Silicon Valley.
Illustrious personalities, such as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, staked millions on Theranos, which then seemed to be the Apple of biotech. In any case, this is how Elizabeth Holmes sold her technology, which is supposed to give all medical laboratories and their expensive equipment a facelift.
The young CEO had even pushed the vice to copy the dress code of Steve Jobs, the famous founder of Apple, and had appealed to the same advertisers who had taken care of the campaigns to promote the iPhone.
Except that, unlike Apple’s smartphone, Theranos’ miracle machine – called Edison – did not exist. Theranos carried out some of the tests promised in secret, on machines marketed by competitors of the start-up.
The house of cards began to crumble in 2015, following leaks from former Theranos employees that convinced the Wall Street Journal to conduct a full investigation into the startup’s alleged “breakthrough” technology.
After the revelations about Theranos’ “deception”, US health and legal authorities have tightened the noose around Elizabeth Holmes, who was accused in 2018 of deceiving investors.
But beyond the Elizabeth Holmes case, this trial is also that of the culture of “Fake it until you make it”, assures the Washington Post. “She has long surfed the myth of the genius entrepreneur who conceives ideas that others do not even imagine”, writes the American newspaper.
In this sense, Theranos could only exist because Apple, Google or Facebook had paved the way, adds the Wired site. The real success of these companies created the myth that behind every charismatic founder there could be a revolutionary idea.
“There was thus an incentive for young entrepreneurs to sell wind to investors in the hope that the money raised would then make it possible to concretize the drafts of ideas”, summarizes the Washington Post.
A particularly pernicious trend in a field as sensitive as biotech which can have a real impact on the lives of millions of people. Especially since investors often do not have the expertise to judge the feasibility of an idea, recalls Wired.
The Theranos debacle does not seem, in any case, to have led to questioning among the main investment funds, which have continued to bet billions on biotech start-ups. The amounts invested in this sector have increased from $ 10 billion in 2015 – the date of the first revelations on Theranos to nearly $ 30 billion in 2020, underlines the Washington Post.