Elizabeth Holmes & Sunny Balwani’s Secret Romance Got Even Messier After ‘The Dropout’—Here’s Where They Stand Now

Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny Balwani
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Ever since The Dropout landed on Hulu, viewers have been wanting to know more about Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani’s relationship in real life and where the Theranos ex-lovers stand with each other today.

As shown on Hulu’s The Dropoutwhich premiered on March 3, 2022, and stars Amanda Seyfried and Naveen Andrews as Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, respectively—the former Theranos partners struck up a secret relationship that lasted for years. Holmes and Balwani went to great lengths to keep their romance a secret from investors, employees and, of course, the press, often lying about the nature of their relationship so as to not spark concerns about a conflict of interest. While this certainly wasn’t the most egregious falsehood in the ill-fated story of Theranos, Holmes and Balwani’s relationship naturally takes up a significant role in Hulu’s The Dropout. But the story of their relationship doesn’t end with the show.

These days, Holmes and Balwani’s relationship continues to spark headlines. Following the fall of Theranos in 2018, the romance between the former company executives has become a looming topic of discussion in ongoing trials and litigation. Years after their breakup, Holmes made a series of startling accusations about Balwani during her own fraud trial in 2021 (more on those claims below). While these accusations have been strongly refuted by Balwani’s counsel, the courts continue to consider the former couple’s bizarre dynamic—one that appeared to cross personal and professional boundaries every day.

For everything we know about Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani’s relationship—from how it started to where they stand today—just keep on reading ahead.

How did Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani meet?

Holmes and Balwani met for the first time in 2002. The pair initially met in Beijing, China, while on a language immersion program with Stanford University. Holmes was an 18-year-old high school senior at the time, whereas Balwani was a married, 37-year-old university student completing his MBA at the University of California, Berkeley. All in all, the pair had a 19 year age difference.

“I understood that he’d been a really successful businessperson, that he worked with Bill Gates in the early days of Microsoft,” Holmes said during her trial in 2021, per Vanity Fair. “I talked to him about wanting to start a company, and a company that I tried to build in high school, and I asked for his advice.”

When did Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani start dating?

Sunny Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes, 'The Dropout'

Image: Beth Dubber / ©Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection.

After meeting in Beijing, Holmes and Balwani kept in touch. According to Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup—the 2018 book that served as the basis for ABC News’ “The Dropout” and the Hulu series of the same name—Balwani often emailed the entrepreneurial hopeful during her first year of college at Stanford. By the time she dropped out of college in 2004 to create the company that would later become Theranos, Holmes and Balwani were officially an item. By 2005, Holmes was living with Balwani in Palo Alto, where he owned a condo.

Holmes and Balwani kept their relationship a secret from investors as Theranos continued to expand. Balwani, for his part, was focused on his own endeavors; he had started a multi-million dollar corporation that eventually sold for $40 million. Soon enough, however, he joined his girlfriend at her company.

When did Sunny Balwani start working at Theranos?

'The Dropout' Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny Balwani

Image: Beth Dubber / ©Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection.

Although he had no prior medical experience, Balwani was formally hired as president and chief operating officer of Theranos in 2009. It quickly became clear to employees, however, that Balwani’s role at the company was actually that of an enforcer.

According to journalist Nick Bilton, who a series of investigative reports about Theranos for Vanity Fair, Balwani was something of a watchdog at the company. “When employees questioned the accuracy of the company’s blood-testing technology, it was Balwani who would chastise them in emails (or in person),” Bilton wrote, adding in part, “He ensured that scientists and engineers at Theranos did not talk to one another about their work.”

When did Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani break up?

Holmes and Balwani’s relationship ended in 2016, just as Theranos began to unravel. At the time, Balwani announced he was departing from the company after serving as its COO for seven years (however, some reports claim he was fired). His departure came amid a series of investigations by the FBI, FDA and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) into Theranos’ testing facilities and Holmes herself.

As a result of these investigations, both Holmes and Balwani were banned from ever owning or operating a blood testing laboratory in the future. Along with Holmes, Balwani was charged by the SEC in March 2018 with securities fraud for “raising more than $700 million from investors through an elaborate, years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance”. While Holmes settled this case privately, Balwani continued to fight these charges as of 2019.

In addition to his fraud charges, Balwani also faces criminal charges today. A federal grand jury indicted president Balwani and Holmes on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in 2018. Holmes, for her part, was found guilty on multiple counts of fraud in January 2022. But when is Balwani’s trial?

When is Sunny Balwani’s trial?

Sunny Balwani, 'The Dropout'

Image: Beth Dubber / ©Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection.

Balwani’s trial officially began on March 9, 2022, just two months after his ex was found guilty on four counts of defrauding investors. Balwani, who was president and chief operating officer at Theranos, faces the same charges as Holmes, and has pleaded not guilty.

Months before Balwani’s trial, Holmes testified that her former partner was verbally and sexually abusive during their relationship, which brings into question how his trial may differ from hers. “He told me I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity, that if I followed my instincts I was going to fail, and that I needed to kill the person I was to become what he called a new Elizabeth that could be a successful entrepreneur,” Holmes testified in 2021, according to Vanity Fair. “He would tell me not to sleep much, eat only foods that would make me pure and would make me have the most energy possible in the company.”

“He would get very angry with me, and then he would sometimes come upstairs to our bedroom and force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to, because he wanted me to know that he still loved me,” she added. “He had taught me everything that I thought I knew about business, and I thought he was the best businessperson I knew. I think that I didn’t question him in a way that I otherwise would have. Balwani, for his part, has denied these claims.

The Dropout is available to stream on Hulu. Here’s how to watch it for free.

"Bad Blood Secrets & Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup"

Image: Courtesy of Knopf.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

For more about Elizabeth Holmes, check out Wall Street Journal reporter John Careyrou’s 2018 book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. The book—which The New York Times described as “chilling” and said “reads like a thriller”—tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes, a health tech entrepreneur who was seen as the Steve Jobs, and her company, Theranos, startup that raised more than $9 billion in funding and promised to revolutionize the medical industry through single-drop blood tests. The national bestseller follows Holmes as she allegedly defrauded investors and put patients at risk with misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments through her defective technology. The book also investigates how Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, worked to silence anyone who voiced their criticism—including Theranos’ own employees.

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