Lessons that Investors should Learn From Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Theranos former CEO Elizabeth Holmes
Theranos former CEO Elizabeth Holmes

If you’re passionate about tech start-ups and Silicon Valley, then you’ve probably heard of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of Theranos, a healthcare start-up. 

The 37-year-old former businesswoman secured investments from big names such as Rupert Murdoch as well as the former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Walton family of Walmart fame who gave her over $700 million. The investors will mislead by Holmes’s called blood-testing technology. The company’s claims about its technology, as well as its business and financial performance were either exaggerated or false, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The Theranos story is an important lesson for Silicon Valley,” Jina Choi, director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office, said at the time charges were filed. 

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“Innovators who seek to revolutionize and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today, not just what they hope it might do someday.”

“There’s going to be a lot of attention on what did Elizabeth Holmes know and when did she know it, but a better question is what should the investment community know and when should we know it?” said Len Sherman, professor of business at Columbia Business School. 

Nonetheless, Theranos isn’t the only company that secured millions of dollars and defrauded its investors. Another example is uBiome which was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for fraudulent billing. Another is Outcome Health which is a healthcare advertising company that provided misleading information to drugmakers on where their ads are appearing and how they are performing. 

Corporate malfeasance comes in waves, Sherman said, from Enron and WorldCom to Bernie Madoff and now Theranos. “We are in another era that has conditions that are conducive to promoting fraud.” 

How to detect a problem

“It’s important that we don’t assume that every company is like a Theranos, we just need to ask the right questions,” said Ruby Gadelrab, founder and CEO of MDisrupt, a medical diligence company for the health-tech industry, which aims to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

“Health care, as a whole, is complex,” Gadelrab said. “It’s probably the hardest area to invest in.”

To help investors vet health-technology companies, Gadelrab suggests first establishing if the product is clinically and commercially viable.

“Investors do technical and financial diligence using experts, in health care we need to do medical diligence using health-care experts.”