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Theranos, the startup that has become the biggest flop in Silicon Valley

Theranos, the startup that has become the biggest flop in Silicon Valley

The young entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes had convinced everyone with the Theranos startup. Was it just a trick?

A young leader, a millionaire assessment and an innovative idea: the Theranos startup seemed to have all the credentials to break into Silicon Valley and for a period it succeeded. Too bad that, as told by the recent documentary The Inventor, behind the company was a scam that upset the tech world in California and beyond.

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The birth of Theranos

The film, produced by the Hbo channel with the original title of The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and directed by Alex Gibney, continues to cause a stir for the story of the protagonist Elizabeth Holmes. The documentary retraces the story of how this young student, born in 1984 in Washington, decided to leave the prestigious Stanford University in 2004 to dedicate himself to his startup called Theranos, from the union between the words therapy "and" diagnosis or therapy and diagnosis. The basic idea promised to carry out hundreds of medical tests in a few minutes starting from a simple drop of blood taken from a patient's thumb: a real health revolution since blood tests are still in progress they require time and complex machinery.

The rise of Theranos

Despite the skepticism of some scientists, who did not consider the dream of Holmes feasible, the former student obtained as much as 6 million dollars in investments only in the first year, which became 92 in 2011. In addition, the aura of mystery around the company and its founder (Theranos did not have a website until 2013 and did not issue press releases) helped to increase the fame of both. The few public appearances of Holmes were treated as an important event: the woman always dressed in dark clothes and spoke with a almost robotic tone of voice, imitating, according to his own words, the methods of Steve Jobs. Holmes' dedication to his company and the desire to improve the health of mankind diagnosing the most common diseases well in advance made it an example for millions of young women around the world. Covers on Forbes and profiles on the New York Times did the rest, while Theranos made an agreement with the colossus of the American pharmacies in Walgreens to bring its special reader to thousands of stores in the US.

Theranos: the fall

It all started to fall apart after a Wall Street Journal article managed to get more information on Theranos. The journalist discovered that the machine, called Edison da Holmes in honor of the American inventor, he was unable to perform more than a hundred promised blood tests: he only did a few without being sure of the presence of diseases easier to identify like hepatitis. All other promised diagnoses, from those for viruses to more serious diseases, they were made by Theranos employees thanks to common machinery used in hospitals. Despite the article, which was followed by many others on the same wavelength, Holmes went on to make promises and promote Theranos, stopping only when the FBI started investigating and then forced it to suspend activities and withdrawing the few machines that had actually arrived in some Arizona Walgreens. The Silicon Valley motto Fake it till you make it or pretend until you reach the goal it was Holmes's mantra, but unlike others she failed to complete it or perhaps not been given enough time. Will the ambitious and competitive tech world be able to learn something from the history of Theranos?

Edited by Andrea Indiano