Executive Director of the Miller Center on entrepreneurship
January 24, 2019
The following is an entry in a series
called “Voices of Santa Clara,” which
profiles noteworthy students and faculty. The Q & A is excerpted from the
“Voices of Santa Clara” podcast.
Thane Kreiner is the executive
director of Miller Center for Social
Gavin Cosgrave: You studied
chemistry in college at the University of Texas Austin, what were
your career plans in college?
Thane Kreiner: I had no career plans, it’s very different today.
I studied chemistry because I was
putting myself through college
with a scholarship that paid me
$1,000 to study chemistry. It was
a major that came to me for economic reasons.
It was during my senior year
that I got interested in neuroscience. It was a convergence of how
the human brain works, why some
people think differently than others, causes of mental illness. I was
really interested in how the brain
connected to the mind, and that
lead me to California for my graduate studies.
GC: Why did you decide to work
in the private sector?
TK: In grad school in neuroscience at Stanford, I graduated
with five different publications
and finished in a little more than
four years. I knew that I wanted
to stay in California. At the time
when you got a Ph.D. from a prestigious university, the expectation
was that you would set up your own
When I did my post-doc, it
was a very different experience.
The missing ingredient was really leadership. I decided to explore different career options and
I went through what we now call
“vocational discernment” talking
to people in different parts of the
biotech industry. I wanted to apply
science to help people, and I saw
biotech and pharmaceuticals as a
way to do that.
That lead me to apply to an MBA
program at the Stanford Graduate
School of Business. I got my MBA
in 1994 then spent the next 17 years
in the biotech industry leading life
GC: Had social entrepreneurship always been a part of you? Or
were you starting a new chapter
when you joined Miller Center?
TK: When I went to business
school, one of my aspirations was
to apply science and technology
to help people. In biomedical research and biotechnology, there are
a lot of ways to improve devastating
conditions with technology. In the
process of starting four companies,
I realized that my drive was about
how science and technology would
help people, but my job as CEO was
to maximize returns for the venture capitalists.
I had imagined that at some
point in my life, when one of my
companies had a liquidity event,
I would do something else that
would just be focused on doing
good, but I didn’t know what that
was. Then Santa Clara came up serendipitously.
GC: There are so many gigantic
problems in the world, from human
rights to climate change, to oceans
to poverty and inequality. Are you
optimistic about the future?
TK: There are days when I’m
very optimistic because I’ve been
in the field with social enterprises
and I’ve seen how community-level
engagement can create transformative change, and how that can
scale to address problems of climate change by creating resilience
in the places that are most affected.
Miller Center is doing a program with social enterprises focused on refugees, migrants and
human trafficking survivors. This
program has opened a new way of
showing how entrepreneurship can
positively impact the most vulnerable. I think the principles of social
entrepreneurship hold promise.
At the same time, there are
troubling political wins that could
destroy the planet around us. It’s
a frightening time at least in my
GC: What are you most proud
of up to this point in your career?
TK: I would probably say the
Global Social Benefit Fellowship
if I had to pick one thing.
When Keith Warner and I
started contemplating how we
could create a transformative social justice learning experience, it
What the program has done is
phenomenal, beyond what I could
We’ve had eight Fulbrights and
three valedictorians in the program, and all the students feel like
To listen to the full interview, visit
voicesofsantaclara.com or search
“Voices of Santa Clara” on the
iTunes Podcast App.