The Dropout: The Rise and Fall of America’s Youngest Female Billionaire Elizabeth Holmes

By: Amelia Dasari —Online Editor-in-Chief

When 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University in 2002, no one expected the outcome. With her college fund and a fresh idea, Holmes entered Silicon Valley and went on to found Theranos, a biotech company whose name is a portmanteau of the words therapy and diagnosis. 

Holmes proposed a way to predict a person’s disease with only a single drop of blood. The groundbreaking technology, which “revolutionized” the healthcare industry, propelled her into a world of fame, fortune, and ultimately fraud.

At its height, Theranos was valued at $9 billion, and since Holmes was worth half the company she was worth $4.5 billion, making her America’s youngest self-made female billionaire. She appeared on the covers of Forbes, Fortune, and Glamour, and was deemed the “next Steve Jobs”. 

With help from whistleblowers Erika Chueng and Tyler Schultz and Wall Street Journalist John Carryough, a series of articles were published in 2015 questioning Theranos’s validity and Holmes’ authority. 

After the allegations, in a 2016 interview with Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money, Holmes defended herself and her company. “This is what happens when you work to change things,” she says with a sly smile. “First they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then, all of a sudden, you change the world.”

Despite the long fight she put up, Theranos came crumbling down. In the blink of an eye, Holmes lost everything. Walgreens cut ties with Theranos, and Forbes republished her net worth to be $0. But even with a fake idea, she still dominated the blood care industry for over a decade. So how did a 19-year-old girl manage to fool everyone? 

The Hulu limited series The Dropout starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes delves into Theranos’s history, her relationship with COO Sunny Balwani, and examines how a woman with a bold and seemingly impactful idea scammed the entire nation. 

The series premiered on March 3rd and also stars Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani, Stephen Fry as scientist Ian Gibbons, Dylan Minette as whistleblower Tyler Schultz, and Laurie Metcalf as professor Phyllis Garner. 

Director Michael Showalter says he picked up the idea because he was fascinated by Holmes’s story. “ I remember Googling her and going on YouTube because I thought she was so fascinating. So I’ve just been a bystander of this story as it’s unfolded over the years… and just following the story.” 

Showwalter adds that he wanted to portray the story in an unbiased fashion. “ So I tried to just be there, and then let the actors tell the story of the characters and stuff. For me, it’s more just trying to almost make the camera another person, somehow, another character in those situations who’s a silent observer.”

The Dropout has received mixed reviews from viewers. Some claim the show is “too dramatic” while others believe it is the “perfect embodiment of Holmes’s story.”

Senior Alice Zaniewski says she enjoys the show more than other documentaries about Holmes. “All the documentaries I’ve seen tend to focus on the actual facts. The Dropout seems like more of a story, and I’m really able to see the pivotal events in Holme’s career as if I was there.”

 Zaniewski adds that the show does a good job of showing the facts, without getting too tied up. “I was surprised that the show seemed to be pretty unbiased. Especially since Holmes’s trial is ongoing, I expected the show to be more critical of her actions.”

Holmes and Balwani are currently on trial, and all eight episodes of The Dropout are available on Hulu. 

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