Disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes “has the ambition to rise again” despite being jailed for a year-long fraud that saw her become one of America’s most celebrated tech billionaires, the creator of an award-winning podcast about the scandal has said.
It was the 38-year-old sentenced to more than 11 years behind bars on Friday, after being convicted of four counts of fraud after a case that gripped the world.
Her astonishing rise and fall – from the youngest self-made female billionaire in US history to her once $9 billion company perish in shame – inspired podcast The Dropout, which this year was adapted into an acclaimed television series of the same name starring Amanda Seyfried.
Host Rebecca Jarvis, an ABC News correspondent, interviewed former employers, investors and patients over several years and has since spoken to some of the 12 jurors who decided Holmes’ fate.
“It’s a poor bet to assume this is the last we’ve heard from Elizabeth Holmes,” she told Sky News.
“She has the ambition to get back up and do more.
“I have reports from a handful of sources who were not part of the lawsuit, who lost money on this story, but ultimately said they would back her again if she came back with a new idea.”
How Elizabeth Holmes went from Silicon Valley darling to disgrace
Investors can “try again” if Holmes returns
Styling himself after his idol Steve Jobs, the famed Apple founder, Holmes’ company took Silicon Valley by storm on the promise of breakthrough blood-testing technology that attracted a host of big-name investors.
Among them were Rupert Murdoch and US pharmacy giant Walgreens, while former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger sat on the board.
They were all lured by the promise of technology that could test for dozens of diseases with just a drop of blood, potentially removing the need for trips to the doctor by rolling out the gadgets in stores.
“For a while, you could walk into a Walgreens and visit one of Therano’s health centers — and there was a promise that the technology would find its way into most Walgreens in the country,” Jarvis said.
“Had Elizabeth Holmes achieved her goal, this could have been in the hands of most Americans.”
Although the technology never worked as advertised, Jarvis says the promise of such an idea should be enough to once again attract investors.
As a female CEO, she had “defied many of the odds” by raising hundreds of millions of dollars, helped create an “amazing” persona defined by polo shirts, a strikingly deep voice and a goal to “change the world”.
“We’ve seen things like that happen with Silicon Valley — big investors putting money back in with founders who… maybe haven’t been accused of fraud, but have lost everything,” Jarvis says.
“It’s definitely not out of the question, you’d see people who lost with her once, try again and see if it works.”
Dangerous “pressure” of big technology
The culture of Silicon Valley, home to companies like Apple, Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaand Google owner Alphabet, came under enormous scrutiny as the Theranos dream unraveled.
The treacherous “fake it ’til you make it” ethos that pervades American startups creates pressure that helps personalities like Holmes emerge and will continue to do so, according to Jarvis.
“You don’t have an Elizabeth Holmes without some of this ecosystem that exists around her,” she said.
“I’ve covered technology, business and finance for nearly two decades, and you see history repeat itself time and time again. Change can happen — but it’s mostly incremental.”
If there should be a positive legacy from the Theranos scandal, Jarvis believes it may lie in the willingness of whistleblowers to speak out against their employers.
Among the keys to uncovering Holmes was research engineer Tyler Shultz, grandson of board member George and lab assistant Erika Cheung.
Mr Shultz’s relationship with his family was hugely strained by his decision to speak out, while Cheung – a recent graduate at the time – feared for his career prospects.
Both contributed to John Carreyrou’s bombshell report in The Wall Street Journal, and are featured on the podcast and show The Dropout, for which Jarvis was an executive producer.
“In the short term they faced real consequences, and it wasn’t nice,” Jarvis told Sky News.
“But in the longer term what they said was true and was vindicated in a court of law – Elizabeth Holmes was convicted, the jury held her responsible for the things they said she was responsible for.
“It shows the power of speaking up when you see something that doesn’t seem right. While there may be short-term consequences, the truth will ultimately prevail.”
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