In case you haven’t heard, there is a young female billionaire making a stir amongst the wealthiest in our nation. In fact, Elizabeth Holmes is known as the youngest female billionaire in history. What seems to be of more interest is that she dropped out of college to pursue her dream.
Of course there have been other billionaires that dropped out of college to pursue their dreams like Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and even Steve Jobs of Apple. Does that mean everyone should just pursue their dreams rather than going to college? Obviously, not. Some individuals just don’t have the kind of creativity and life experience that will make it a viable option.
Elizabeth Holmes was a 19 year old sophomore at Stanford University in 2003, when she decided to drop out and use the remainder of her tuition money to fuel her idea for revolutionizing healthcare. When she first shared her plan with her chemical engineering professor, he was troubled by the fact that she was willing to leave her degree uncompleted.
When he asked why she would risk everything to follow this plan, Holmes replied, “I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender.” Once he saw the passion that she held so clearly for this idea, he knew she would find success.
In 2003, Holmes founded the company she cleverly named Theranos, a mix of the word “therapy” and “diagnosis”. In this day and age where so much of the healthcare industry is changing, and perhaps even more that needs to, Holmes had a very simple idea to revolutionize that way that blood tests are done to diagnose patients.
Usually when a patient needs to have lab work done, they have several vials of blood drawn which can be invasive and cause many patients to become weak in the knees. Theranos has developed a method for performing over 70 lab tests using just a single drop of blood. That’s right, a simple pin prick can now replace the need for phlebotomists to draw the multiple vials of blood needed before.
In addition to this revolutionary testing method, Holmes has created a transparent pricing model that shows very clearly the price of all the tests that her company can perform. Try finding that kind of up front pricing at any other lab in the nation! What’s even more amazing is the fact that her company is able to perform these less-invasive, highly accurate tests at a fraction of the costs that Americans are paying currently. Holmes estimates that her testing techniques could save Medicare $98 billion and Medicaid $104 billion over the next decade.
Holmes has already received FDA approval for several of her ideas, and is also receiving the approval of many venture capitalists to support her mission. To date Theranos has raised more than $400 million, valuing the company at approximately $9 billion. Holmes holds a 50% stake, making her net worth somewhere around $4.5 billion. Not too shabby for a 30 year old college drop-out.
A recent CNN Money article interviewed Holmes and asked about her inspiration for this career path. “I think a lot of young people have incredible ideas and incredible insights, but sometimes they wait before they go give their life to something,” she said. “What I did was just to start a little earlier.”
Holmes thinks that ease of testing will make people more likely to go through with blood tests and help with earlier detection of illness, something she’s passionate about. Her father, Christian Holmes IV, has spent a career working in humanitarian assistance, including several executive positions with USAID.
“My father worked in disaster relief and so I grew up in a house that had pictures of all these little children in really tough parts of the world,” she said. “I was absolutely convinced that was what I was going to do. Then when I started realizing that a company could be a vehicle for having very direct impact over a change that you are trying to make, I started thinking about the concept of what could I build that could impact a lot of peoples’ lives.”
Her answer to this question was the Theranos Wellness Center, which has calming music, glossy magazines and offers her blood tests to the patients who utilize the clinic. Her ultimate goal is to have one center within five miles of any American (or one mile for folks in big cities). “It’s bringing the testing closer to where people live and also changing the hours of operation, so that on a weekend or late at night you can get access to these tests.”
According to American Clinical Laboratory Association, more than 7 billion lab tests are performed in the U.S. annually and lab results dictate 80% of clinical decisions. Far too often, the cost of laboratory tests and the fear of having a needle jabbed into one’s arm deters patients from getting the necessary tests.
So, for once, someone is trying to save the public and health care systems money. Clearly, this is not a typical young woman, and we will all be benefiting from her brilliance for years to come.