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The college dropout billionaire who’s revolutionizing medicine

Nicole Duignan

Microsoft Founder and philanthropist Bill Gates took the top spot for the 21st year in a row on Forbes 400 richest Americans list with a net worth of $81 billion. Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway ranks second with a net worth of $67 billion, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is in third place with a $50 billion fortune. But in addition to these long-time heavyweights, 27 new names grace this year’s list, and Abram Brown, associate editor at Forbes, describes nearly all the newcomers as “self-made, entrepreneurial capitalists.”

A standout member among the new-editions to this very elite club is 30-year old college dropout Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes reportedly “labored in secret” for almost a decade while developing a revolutionary new blood-testing technology. In 2003 she took her findings to the public and founded Theranos-- the company announced partnerships with Walgreens and other major drugstores to bring a new type of blood testing to consumers. Holmes’ technology calls only for a single finger-prick and a very small amount of blood for medical testing—as opposed to the full vial (or vials) of blood typically drawn for testing in most labs and medical offices. The prick is said to be painless and Theranos’ testing-methods only a fraction of the cost of commercial labs.

The biotech founder is the youngest self-made woman on the Forbes 400 list with a net worth of $4.5 billion. Holmes dropped out of Stanford University her sophomore year as a chemical engineering major and used her tuition money to found her company. Holmes’ tests do not have to be performed in a doctor’s office, and by skipping the big labs most results can be ready in a few hours. “She could totally overturn an entire industry if Theranos is as successful as it seems to be,” says Brown.

Other new names of note on the 2014 list include video game king Jon Yarbrough, who got his start as a college kid in Tennessee by renting out his foosball table to a local bar for a 50-50 split of the profits. He expanded into video gaming machines and his business grew with the Tribal Casino business. Yarbrough’s current net worth is $1.66 billion and in June he announced plans to sell his company to an Australian firm for $1.28 billion.

Rockstar Energy Drink creator Russ Weiner also made his debut into the 400 with a $2.5 billion net worth. He founded the Red Bull and Monster Beverage competitor after learning the beverage industry-ropes while working for the founder of Skyy Vodka and expects 2014 sales of his drink to reach $713 million.

Brown points out that there are 133 American billionaires “too poor for the rich list.” This year the average net-worth of members of the Forbes 400 Richest list is $1.55 billion up almost 14% from last year, a number Brown says “generally rises as the stock market rises.”