October 4, 2017
By Kenny Ryan
DALLAS (SMU) – Iraq war veteran Jason Waller, 40, knows how challenging it can be for veterans to find civilian work when they leave the military. He heard it firsthand from the men and women he served with during his own deployments overseas.
Jason Waller at Mavericks game with his son, Brinnen.
Now, he’s in position to help both veterans and Americans who lost their homes in a hurricane season unlike any in living memory.
A senior at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, Waller has launched his own company, Emergent Services LLC, to provide on-the-job training for vets to work as independent property insurance adjusters. Waller says the client base – Americans struggling to navigate insurance claims after devastating storms – is one that vets are eager to help.
“There are a lot of aspects of being an insurance adjuster that veterans can relate to,” says Waller, who will graduate with a management science degree in December. “There’s something in our nature that we want to serve Americans. When we can do it face-to-face instead of on the other side of the world, it’s therapeutic for us.”
Waller, an Army veteran who served 15 months in Iraq and four years as a DOD contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now making his first hires with the goal of deploying veterans/adjusters to storm-hit areas of Texas and Florida by the end of the year. If he’s successful, it will be the realization of a dream that seemed impossible before he arrived at SMU in 2014.
He’s following a blueprint that won him top prizes at SMU: First, in the Big iDeas Pitch Contest in 2015 for his concept of pairing returning veterans with proven professionals for on-the-job training for civilian careers, and then in the 2016 Business Plan Competition for the startup plan for Emergent Services, LLC.
“My motto is, if something seems completely unrealistic, what does the first step cost me?” Waller says. “What would it cost me to talk to the organizers of SMU’s Big iDeas contest about my idea? Nothing. So I went and asked them what they thought and they liked the idea.
“That was the first time I realized it had a shot,” Waller said. “Then I won the Big iDeas contest and realized, oh wow, maybe this idea has potential. As more time goes by, I’ve realized this idea can really become something.”
But that’s not to say the effort hasn’t had a cost. Most mornings, Waller is up before his wife, Kristen, 10-year-old son, Brinnen, and 4-year-old daughter, Gatlin, driving the 65-mile road between Sherman and his classes at SMU. Some nights, he doesn’t get home until after they’re asleep. Other days, it’s a race home to coach his son’s football team.
“Six of the 10 years my son has been alive, I’ve been deployed overseas,” Waller says. “When you miss that much, you do everything you can to get that time back. It’s been a sacrifice.”
But Waller hasn’t had to go it alone.
The legal clinics at SMU’s Dedman School of Law helped Waller (at no cost to him) file the paperwork that established his company. The cash prizes he won from the Big iDeas and Business Plan Competitions provided some of the startup funding he needed to get his idea off the ground. SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility and the SMU MilVets helped give him the support and mentoring that is getting him through school with a 3.8 GPA.
“Today, we look at him and all his accomplishment and know he’s had a successful and meaningful experience here,” says Candy Crespo, SMU student veterans advisor. “SMU aims to shape world changers who contribute to their communities and excel in their professions in a global society. Jason embodies just that.”
A nationally ranked private university with seven degree-granting schools, SMU is a distinguished center for teaching and research located near the heart of Dallas. SMU's 11,000 students benefit from small classes, research opportunities, leadership development, international study and innovative programs. The University is strengthened by its partnership with the Dallas region, a global center of commerce and culture. SMU students, faculty and alumni are changing the world through their chosen fields, civic engagement and service to society.
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