Roxanne Petraeus On Transitioning From Combat In Afghanistan To Leading A Startup That Combats Sexual Harassment

There are 17.4 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics of the U.S. Census. Of these 17.4 million, about 10% are women. Like the military, tech is also heavily male-dominated, with only 11% of VC partners being women and less than 3% of VC money going to female founders. One woman who understands the challenges of both worlds is Roxanne Bras Petraeus, a 34-year-old veteran who is now the co-founder and CEO of Ethena — a NYC-based startup that provides modern corporate training for sexual harassment prevention. 

Bras Petraeus grew up in Central Florida and studied Economics at Harvard, where she received a scholarship from the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). 

“Both of my parents had served in the military,” Bras Petraeus told me in an interview. “Even though I had never envisioned myself in uniform, I decided to give it a try.”

She met her future husband, Stephen Petraeus, in 2006, when they were both cadets at MIT’s ROTC unit. They were then commissioned as Army officers and served together in Afghanistan in 2010 under General Petraeus, Stephen’s father. 

“I really liked certain aspects of the military,” Bras Petraeus added. “The discipline, the physical components, the community. I also had a love/hate relationship with the military’s unique ability to get me out of my comfort zone.”

A Born Leader

Her military career took her across the globe. In addition to Afghanistan, Bras Petraeus worked as a Civil Affairs Officer in Cambodia and Mongolia, on projects such as training with non-U.S. militaries and disaster preparedness. In between her various military deployments, she managed to squeeze in a Masters in International Relations at the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

The capacity to learn, adapt and show immeasurable resilience during uncertain times are all traits that make great Army officers, but also great entrepreneurs.

“Given the chaos of 2020, one of the biggest military skills that I rely on now as CEO is leading during uncertainty,” Bras Petraeus said. “I served with excellent soldiers and officers who showed me that great leaders stay calm in crises precisely because they are such important moments, versus feeling like a crisis requires the leader to be loud and act impulsively.”

Bras Petraeus became the CEO of Ethena, which she co-founded with Anne Solmssen, in August 2019. 

Culture Change

The main purpose of Ethena, according to the founders, is to provide modern corporate training for sexual harassment prevention that is both effective and engaging, with a focus on culture change, not just compliance. 

“I had always found the concept of ‘check-the-box’ training to be strange,” Bras Petraeus said. “Why would we sit in hours of training that everyone knew to be ineffective? I saw this in the military and

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