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The Myth of Young Business Prodigies

By Keirah Chen Feb. 16, 2022

Beomhee Kim Art

Recently accused of 11 federal charges, Elizabeth Holmes is eligible to face up to 20 years in prison after the Wall Street Journal exposed the deception behind her start-up company Theranos and its blood-testing machines. Holmes’ story has further tarnished the shining image of Silicon Valley’s aspiring entrepreneurs; the Valley’s quintessential discipline of pushing young individuals toward success—regardless of the individual’s qualifications—made it possible for Holmes to quickly launch Theranos into fame. However, many scandals regarding start-up companies have swept over Silicon Valley, credited to its history of believing in young business prodigies despite their lack of credentials.

Holmes had promised the public that Theranos could run hundreds of medical tests with just one drop of blood, but it was found that they were using other companies’ machines to achieve this.

Such lies allowed Holmes to reel in business investors easily, making her the youngest self-made woman billionaire—her company was worth $9 billion by the time she turned 30.

Lily Robotics is another example of a company that boasted false achievements. Founded in 2013 by two college undergraduates, the company emerged when both sought to create a quadcopter camera drone. They raised over $15 million in funds after publicizing videos of an autonomous, video-capturing drone in 2015. Two years later, the company filed for bankruptcy when it was exposed that their drone never existed. With these accusations curtailing their funds, Lily Robotics failed to refund everyone involved. Similarly, Holmes has not compensated her patients, revealing how these frauds curse both the tricksters and the tricked.

Beomhee Kim Art

Public news’ constant search and coverage of Silicon Valley’s affairs illustrates its obsession over new start-up companies and their young leaders. Reporters write eye-catching headlines questioning whether young CEOs are scammers or geniuses. However, the media also reinforces the hype around new company founders, evidenced by business publications like Forbes having “under-30” young entrepreneur lists. According to Business Insider, these showcase individuals who started a company before turning 30, leading to fallacious associations of entrepreneurship with youth.

“Even though the media is filled with success stories from people as young as teenagers, there is no age limit on when someone becomes successful. This concept that one must attain life success by a certain age can negatively impact people’s mental health. It is hard to not compare yourself to those covered by the news, but it is important to consider that you are still capable of achieving success regardless of age,” Junior Helen Tran said.

Media’s portrayal that anyone can become rich by a young age intensifies the pressure young people place on themselves, even encouraging some to lie about their age to fabricate a reputation of early success. Such misdeeds are fruitless—the idea of the “perfect young prodigy” is a myth. A study done by the Harvard Business Review found 45 to be the average age of when successful founders created their company. This distorted embellishment of younger investors perpetuates age bias, which can lead to older citizens being denied jobs out of this false narrative that age and competency are inversely related. Furthermore, the public’s fixation on young prodigies is emotionally harmful, often instigating feelings of inferiority amongst older individuals who feel they do not possess the badge of “young success.” Self-defeatingly, young individuals feel pressured to equate their capabilities with those of prodigies.

“While people achieving goals like founding a company before the age of 30 are incredibly impressive, their qualifications are important. Young business prodigies make for inspiring stories, but the fact that someone started a company in their 20s can appear misleading as they can only gain so much expertise in that amount of time. Older business leaders, having more experience, should be seen as more trustworthy,” Freshman Daniel Fogg said.

The lies told by some entrepreneurs cast a negative light on all those professionally-ambitious, making it difficult for anyone interested in starting a business. Stories like those of Theranos and other failed start-up companies can serve as cautionary tales for both investors and consumers going forward.


About the Contributors

Keirah Chen

Page Editor

Keirah Chen is a junior at Leland High School and the Entertainment and Student Spotlight page editor. She likes horror movies, reading, and traveling.

Beomhee Kim

Art Director

Beomhee Kim is a senior at Leland High School and the Art Director for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys drawing, listening to music, and spending time with her friends.

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