by Susan Josephs
Rachel Braun Scherl once had 13 meetings in two days where she tried to convince rooms full of male venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to fund Semprae Laboratories, Inc., whose lead product was Zestra Essential Arousal Oils, a product promoting female sexuality. “We had three strikes against us. We were women not only asking for money but running a company and talking about vaginas,” she recalls of acquiring the Zestra brand in 2008 and co-founding the company Semprae Laboratories.
With her business partner Mary Wallace Jaensch, Scherl persisted in raising $21 million for Semprae, drew national attention to Zestra by launching a media campaign critiquing sexist attitudes in advertising and sold the business to a specialty pharmaceutical company in 2013. Today, the 51-year-old South Orange, N.J.-based VAGIPRENEUR™ shares her hard-earned wisdom with other female sexual health entrepreneurs through Amplify Growth, LLC, the consulting firm she founded to focus on female health and wellness. “I am driven to working with people finding products and solutions to make women’s lives better,”she observes.
In addition to working with her clients on long-term strategies to grow their businesses, Scherl frequently speaks about entrepreneurship, blogs for The Huffington Post and will publish a book called Orgasmic Leadership™, based on interviews she’s conducted with other female sexual health entrepreneurs. Crediting her success to a rigorous work ethic and a gift for cultivating long-term relationships, “I’m also relentless,” she says. “I don’t stop until I find a solution to a problem.”
Raised in Livingston, N.J., Scherl grew up in a culturally Jewish household, where “there were always interesting discussions.” From her father, an engineer and businessman, and her mother, a therapist, she learned about “creative problem-solving and the importance of giving back. Humor and movies were also very important in our family,” she says, recalling how her father loved quoting from the film, Rollerball, whenever she faced a challenge. “He would say, ‘No Time Outs, No Substitutions!’ – aline repeated in the 1976 film, meaning, you play to the bitter end.”
"I love the idea that I can help people accelerate their own learning and prevent them from making the same mistakes I did."
Scherl initially studied psychology at Duke University but ultimately decided to pursue a business career. After receiving her MBA from Stanford, she landed a product management job at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson, where she gained experience working on the TYLENOL® brand. She then spent two years as a principal at the Marketing Corporation of America, where she honed her strategic-thinking skills. In 1998, she co-founded SPARK Solutions for Growth with Jaensch, determined to create a better work-life balance while meeting the needs of her corporate clients.
“That’s when I became an entrepreneur,” she says of building a consulting business that served both startups and Fortune 500 Companies including American Express and multiple divisions of Johnson & Johnson. “Mary and I worked extremely hard, but always had respect for each other’s family life and personal commitments.”
Married to Zev Scherl and the mother of a daughter, 21, and a son, 17, Scherl sits on the leadership committee of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, a program of her local Jewish Federation focusing on youth and family education. A graduate of the Wexner Foundation’s Heritage Program, she also serves on the board of Duke’s New York Women’s Forum and contributed to the development of an undergraduate curriculum on entrepreneurship at Duke. “I feel a drive to give back to the communities which I have been lucky enough to be part of,” she says. “I love being a resource for others, with the goal of hoping they can learn from my mistakes and successes and achieve their individual goals.”