Thane Kreiner of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship: The real reason to ‘get stuff done’

Miller center and its director help global entrepreneurs shine

By: Lynn Peithman Stock, Special Projects Editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal. She oversees SVBJ’s special sections.


Thane Kreiner calls his path to the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship “serendipity.” When he joined the center in 2013, he brought his background in chemistry, research, neurosciences and launching startups. The center tackles global issues and works with 100 Silicon Valley mentors to bring real-world projects to scale. Thanks to him, the center has what he calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal — to positively impact the lives of a billion people by 2020. Kreiner had more than his share of trials early on — an alcoholic and abusive father, his mother in and out of mental institutions, moves from town to town, and losing friends to AIDS in the 1980s. Today, he’s known for “getting stuff done.”

What is your hometown? 

That’s a hard question. … We moved to Alabama, then Louisiana, then back to Seattle for nine years. … Then we moved to Alaska, back to Seattle, then Texas. … We had a pretty dysfunctional family. … I’m the middle of three boys, and I took care of the whole family and cooked meals and things like that when my mother wasn’t able to. It was never really about just getting stuff done to survive. It was really about making a difference by getting things done that are meaningful. That’s very resonant with the work that we do here at Miller Center, and I think it’s what inspires and engages all of our mentors.

What were your thoughts when you applied to the Center for Social Entrepreneurship? 

I thought, “That is everything that I care about — helping people who otherwise might not be helped, working with entrepreneurs.”

Of all the projects you’ve worked with, what has moved you the most? 

I love them all equally, but I think I’ll tell you about a social enterprise. Solar Sister is a really amazing social enterprise. They started in Uganda; they’re in four different countries now. (On a trip in 2013) we visited small villages where someone had converted (to a solar lamp) from a kerosene lantern. They were spending $2 a week on kerosene. … (The villagers) buy a solar-powered lantern from Solar Sister for $20. Ten weeks later, they’re better off economically.

They say, “Our kids are studying at night now. I’m able to do sewing at night. I couldn’t do that before. I can go and milk the cows in the evening when it’s dark. I’m saving money on not buying kerosene, so we’re adding a room onto our house. I’ve been able to open a store.” Something just as small as a $20 solar-powered lantern can transform people’s lives. To me, that was moving.

Where might we find you outside of work? 

I have to exercise every day or I drive people crazy. So, the swimming pool is one place. I like to do yoga. This morning, I went running with a friend.

How many miles? Just six. Today was a short day.

Where else? 

On our property in Sebastopol … I love gardening. We grow a lot of our own food, and so I like cooking a lot.

What’s on the menu this weekend? 

We are having our annual cassoulet feast, and it’s to celebrate Groundhog Day (which) is my favorite holiday because when we were kids, we didn’t have a lot. The neighbors would get stuff at Christmas, and they’d be showing it off. One year, my mother took us to the little corner store, and she got us little things like kites and squirt guns, and then we were running around with them, and they said, “Well, why did you get that?” I said, “It’s a Groundhog Day present. You didn’t get one?” (laughs) Every year after that, we had a present from our mom on Groundhog Day, from the Great Groundhog. It’s a special day for me.

No matter what the groundhog does? 

It doesn’t matter. The point of Groundhog Day to me is that spring is going to come, regardless. It’s inevitable that spring is going to come. The analogy with my mother is unconditional love. It’s going to be there no matter what. Even though she’s been gone for 20 years now, I still know she’s there and part of the journey here at Santa Clara.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Lynn Peithman Stock is Special Projects Editor of the Silicon Valley Business Journal. She oversees SVBJ’s special sections.