They will Still Live in the particular Shadow of Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes

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Female entrepreneurs said they were constantly in comparison to Ms. Holmes, the disgraced founder of Theranos, who faces trial soon.

SAN FRANCISCO — When Alice Zhang lay out in 2018 to improve funding for her drug discovery start-up, investors kept asking her about Theranos , the blood testing start-up led by the entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes that had collapsed in scandal.

Others asked, too. At a Stanford University event, the organizers wanted Ms. Zhang to speak about Theranos. One adviser told her that when her start-up came up in conversation, people responded by cracking jokes about Ms. Holmes.

Ms. Zhang was initially confused. Her start-up, Verge Genomics, uses artificial intelligence to aid the discovery of therapeutic drugs. That was very different from Theranos’s business of marketing blood testing machines as a diagnostic tool. Ms. Holmes had also been accused of criminal fraud. Ms. Zhang had not.

But the pattern was clear. When Verge Genomics raised funding later that year, a prominent industry columnist penned an article that compared Ms. Zhang to Ms. Holmes. Even though comparisons dissipated as her start-up is continuing to grow, Ms. Zhang, 32, said she hears the same stories from other female founders today, even though “I could see little or no similarity besides the idea that we’re both woman in the hard-science room. ”

Carolyn Fong for The Texas Times

A generation most typically associated with female entrepreneurs — particularly those if sciences, biotechnology since health care — is actually operating in the hour of Ms. Sherlock holmes. Though Theranos closed in 2018, Microsoft. Holmes continues to weaving loom large across the start up world because of the spirit of her thing, which has permeated effective culture and left snagged a seemingly marked image of how woman’s founders can motivation boundaries.

Most of the tabloid-like saga get started with when Ms. Sherlock holmes started Theranos when justin was 19. She was basically soon lauded as a the 2nd Steve Jobs , crowned the to-days youngest billionaire coupled with lionized on plentiful magazine covers. Though after a 2015 researching mainly because Wall Street Journal raised click on the about Ms. Holmes’s claims about Theranos, she spectacularly came down from grace. Your loved one implosion captured their public’s imagination, producing a documentary, an e book, a podcast and as well as an upcoming mini-series including Amanda Seyfried.

As Ms. Sherlock holmes prepares to go to lawsuit in federal tribunal in San Jose, Calif., over suggestions that she defrauded individuals, doctors and particular person — jury selection is just scheduled for Aug. 31 — female founders said the ripple effects from the case might be felt anew.

Many said they already had to prove that they belonged in the male-dominated field of start-ups. But in recent years, they faced the additional hurdle of fighting assumptions that they were like Ms. Holmes, they said, something their male counterparts have generally not had to contend with.

“There had been a higher bar before Theranos because we don’t fit the pattern, ” said Falon Fatemi, who co-founded Node, an artificial intelligence start-up, and Fireside, a media distribution start-up. “This just helps it be that much harder. ”

A spokesman for what the law states firm representing Ms. Holmes, 37, declined to comment. She faces up to two decades in jail if convicted. Ramesh Balwani, the former chief operating officer of Theranos, has also been charged with fraud, and his trial may start next year. Both have pleaded not guilty.

For Heather Bowerman, 36, the fallout from Theranos has been longstanding. Ms. Bowerman founded DotLab, that has developed a test to help identify endometriosis, a chronic disorder, in 2016. At meetings with some investors, she said, she was frequently required to explain how DotLab would be distinctive from Theranos. DotLab in the offing to publish its results in peer-reviewed journals, something Theranos never did, she said.

Still, Ms. Bowerman decided to wait on raising investment capital funding, relying alternatively on government grants to get DotLab off the ground.

DotLab has since published results of studies validating its tests in peer-reviewed journals and recruited an advisory board of medical practioners and scientists, which is conducting a clinical trial. The company raised $12 million in venture funding in 2019.

Nevertheless, the stigma from Ms. Holmes persists, Ms. Bowerman said. “I still today see hesitation by traditional V. C. s to fund a diagnostics company, ” she said. “It really narrows the list to a quick list of potential investors. ”

Kate Munsch/Reuters

Carlos Chavarria for The New York Times

Julia Cheek, founder of Everly Health, which provides at-home health tests through its subsidiary, Everlywell, said at a conference in 2019 that comparisons to Ms. Holmes were so frequent that colleagues and advisers even suggested she dye her hair so that the connections would stop. Both women have blond hair. Ms. Cheek failed to change her hair color.

Ms. Cheek, 37, attributed the constant analogies to the fact that few female-founded companies arrive at a certain size and profile, which magnifies the actions of those that. “Women founders need to navigate these types of questions that their male counterparts simply don’t have to answer, ” she said.

The frequent comparisons are pernicious, many entrepreneurs said. In conversations with investors, female founders frequently field what researchers call “prevention” questions, which are framed negatively and built to prevent losses. But male founders tend to be more often asked “promotion” questions about a start-up’s possibilities, which enable them to focus on their hopes and ideals, in accordance with researchers at London Business School and Harvard .

“If you’re offered a promotion question, it is possible to answer in a promotional way, ” said Andy Coravos, founder of HumanFirst, an at-home healthcare start-up. “The core issue you have with Elizabeth Holmes is it’s a prevention question. ”

Some women said they also felt caught in a start-up ecosystem that venerates bold, disruptive businesses, with investors often forgiving those who bend the rules or who simply take shortcuts in pursuit of growth.

Beth Esponnette, founder of Unspun, a custom jeans company, said investors had frequently encouraged her to be much more aggressive, sometimes to the stage of dishonesty. One once advised her to increase her revenue projections by 10 times, a wildly unrealistic level.

Last month, Ms. Esponnette published an essay describing this struggle titled “ I Have it, Elizabeth Holmes . ” Many of Ms. Holmes’s actions were inexcusable, Ms. Esponnette, 33, wrote. “But I still genuinely believe that she thought she was doing the best thing taking the universal advice of Silicon Valley: ‘Fake it till you make it. ’”

Women at tech start-ups wrote to her thanking her for saying what they had been feeling, Ms. Esponnette said.

Lola Priego, 30, the founder of Base, which offers at-home blood and saliva tests that are processed at traditional labs, hears a Theranos comparison at least once a week, she said. The references come directly or indirectly from potential partners, advisers, investors, customers and reporters, she said.

She said she understood the need for skepticism, since new health care companies must certanly be looked at critically to stop malpractice. Often the comparisons stopped after people learned that Base works with Quest Diagnostics, a multinational company, for analysis of its tests.

“But the additional bias and skepticism is challenging to over come, ” Ms. Priego said.

The largest blow came from a scientific adviser whom Ms. Priego said she had tried to recruit in 2019. The adviser took the meeting only to tell her that bringing technology into health care was doing a disservice to the industry, just like Theranos. It caused Ms. Priego to question whether she could hire the caliber of advisers she had hoped for.

“It was quite demoralizing, ” she said. She has since recruited six advisers.

In July, Verge Genomics struck a three-year partnership with the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to focus on drugs for the treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A. L. S., Ms. Zhang said. The company also published a paper about its methods in a scientific journal last year and recruited a chief science officer this year.

It was a relief to have something to exhibit to those who were doubtful, Ms. Zhang said.

“The most fragile the main company is the earliest stage, when you have to get into the people, the vision and the concept, ” she said. Reflecting on Ms. Holmes and Theranos, she added, “It’s where these types of associations can be really harmful and curtail potential. ”

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