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The Entrepreneur Behind ‘Female Viagra’ Wants to Make Women ‘Really F**king Rich’

Cindy Whitehead JenniferRobertsonPhotography Jennifer Robertson Photography

This article originally ran in Term Sheet, Fortune’s newsletter about deals and dealmakers. Sign up here.

You may know Cindy Whitehead as the woman behind Addyi, the women’s libido-enhancing pill dubbed “the female Viagra.” After two failed attempts, she finally got the drug through FDA approval and promptly sold the company behind it for $1 billion to Valeant.

Now, Whitehead has turned from entrepreneur to investor through her new venture The Pink Ceiling—a cross between VC fund, incubator, and consulting firm. She invests in woman-led or female-focused companies that are using technology to tackle health-related problems. Whitehead’s investment thesis boils down to this sentence: “I want to make other women really fucking rich.” She adds, “I firmly believe that when women have money, they have the freedom to make decisions and invest in those things that matter to them.”

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In a conversation with Term Sheet, Whitehead discusses sex, power, and—of course—money.

FORTUNE: You’re known for getting Addyi approved by the FDA and selling it to Valeant. What was it like pitching a female arousal drug to investors, the FDA, and potential acquirers?

WHITEHEAD: I got invited to the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in January of 2015. It was a really important opportunity for me, and I had exactly eight minutes to deliver the presentation. I started talking about the pill, and the whole room starts to giggle. The audience is a sea of blue and gray suits, and here I am in front of the room talking about women and sex.

I can remember glancing down at my countdown clock, thinking, “What can I do to focus everybody?” As fast as I could, I advanced my slides to the brain scan studies. I dramatically pointed to the screen, and I went silent — long enough for it to get uncomfortable. The whole room got silent. “Are you looking at what I am looking at?” I said. “Because I’m just here to talk about the biology of sex for women.” And they regrouped. But it was a lesson in how I would have to talk about the pill going forward when pitching to rooms full of male bankers, investors, and even the FDA.

How did you tailor the pitch for male versus female investors?

If there were female investors in the equation, they would say, “Oh yes, I know.” They got it immediately. For male investors, the quick reaction was social discomfort, and they would cope by joking: “Isn’t jewelry female Viagra?” I sort of got used to it, but I needed them to pay attention to the science. I started talking about it upfront, then we could discuss all the rest.

It did dictate how I raised money. I knew I wasn’t going to get classical funding, so I went out and built an incredible network of high-net worth individuals and angels who bet on me early.

You say women should be unapologetic when it comes to building wealth. What do you mean by that?

We talk all the time about how women need a voice. We don’t need a voice — we need power. Money is power. I say that confidently because the data shows that when women have that power, they pay it forward. They invest in other women, and they invest in their community. I want to help with access to capital, make early bets on these bright women, and give them access to mentoring.

What are some innovative companies you’ve identified in the area of women’s sexual health?

This is the sad part. Because of such high hurdles, it feels like there is a wasteland of investment and innovation. I’m happy we’re having a discussion around ‘femtech,’ and I am 100% supportive of women having many options, but we can’t miss the fact that real, hard, science innovation is still lacking. The pipeline is not rich in companies investing in and solving medical issues that affect women.

You’ve tried to change the narrative around female sexuality. Do you think it’s evolving?

It will not change until we start openly discussing female satisfaction. I think that starts in the patient-provider dialogue with one simple question: “And are you satisfied?” Adding that to the standard questions—“Are you sexually active, do you want birth control, and do you want to get tested for STDs?”—would actually change the conversation about women and sex forever.

Sexual harassment allegations have plagued the VC community in recent months. What are some ways to address and solve this problem?

It is the worst version of power play when people are seeking someone’s mentorship for things that are critical to their livelihood, and then they’re put in that position. Addressing it is speaking up. It’s women advocating not only for themselves, but also for each other.

You wear pink, your office is pink, the company is called The Pink Ceiling, and you run a ‘Pinkubator.’ What does that color symbolize to you?

For me, pink is about owning it as a woman. You have two options when it comes to gender stereotypes — you can either rail against them, have them paralyze you in frustration, or you run right toward it as I do.

Pink, for me, became the transition from underestimated to unapologetic. When people said I had a “little pink pill” and patted me on the shoulder, I understood there was some dismissiveness there, and that’s what needed to be addressed. So I started wearing hot pink.

What advice would you give early-stage founders?

Embrace the workhorse to become the unicorn. I am so tired of all the grandiose startup speak — the founders who declare their genius before they ever even execute it. So what I tell founders is: Don’t tell me you’re going to change the world. Put your head down, do the work, and show me.

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