JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
While housing and healthcare services are often taken care of for military members on orders, they can be difficult avenues to navigate, especially when coming off of a deployment.
This is the exact issue Major Daniel Brillman, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee with the Defense Innovation Unit, is trying to solve.
Brillman grew up in Philadelphia and attended Yale University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and played varsity lacrosse.
“My senior year, I got hurt,” Brillman said. “It’s a sprint sport, so I started taking flying lessons. My instructor was a Marine Reserve Colonel, who instructed at the Yale airport for fun. He started introducing me to the Reserve. I also knew a guy who was an Air Force Colonel, and he said, ‘You should definitely join the Air Force.’”
Brillman moved to New York to do consulting for a financial firm, but he also followed his instructor’s advice and went to Willow Grove to sign up for the Air Force Reserve.
“I always wanted to serve but didn’t know how I wanted to do it. I liked that I could maintain my civilian job at the same time, and I really fell into the Reserve through my friends and flight instructor,” he said.
He went to Officer Training School in 2007, pilot training thereafter, and made his way to the 76th Air Refueling Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base.
Brillman ended up going on orders for about six years at McGuire and deployed twice to Al Dhafra. After his last deployment, he decided to go back to school, feeling like he needed to catch up with his peers in the civilian world. He started pursuing an MBA at Columbia in 2010.
“When I was in my second year of business school, a lot of veterans I had served with started calling me about health and social service issues,” Brillman explained. “These were all reservists going back to their hometowns after deployments. They thought because of my educational background that I would know what to do. But I didn’t.”
Brillman said he started calling different housing services and trying to help out his fellow service members. He thought it was such a problem that he ended up writing a paper about it.
“It was around technology and why we should be able to share important information across these different social services,” he said. “The Dean heard about it and passed it off to a venture capitalist who was a graduate of West Point. I then went and worked with him while building out the idea.”
Building out this idea required Brillman and his co-founder to figure out the following: “what exactly is the problem,” and “what do we need to solve it.”
“We wanted to build real coordinated networks so that different services could check what happens to the client, and the client doesn’t have to navigate all of their own separate services,” Brillman said. “We needed money, engineers, and customers.”
“Our approach was getting the different service organizations to communicate together around a shared client: the veteran, or their family member,” he said. “Our solution is technology. We also deploy people on the ground to build these networks.”
Together, they formed a company called, “Unite Us,” aimed at standardizing communication between health and social services. Founded in 2013, Unite Us built an infrastructure specifically designed to help veterans.
“What’s interesting about the veteran population is that it is one of the most diverse,” Brillman said, “It includes different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ages.”
Unite Us scaled to fifteen cities, with thousands of veteran service organizations working together.
“We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” said Brillman.
In 2017, Unite Us expanded to begin serving all populations. The problem, Brillman said, was the same in the broader landscape, outside of the veteran population, and required the same solution.
“We want to make sure people get the services they need," he said. “We now work with the majority of top health insurers in the country, not only taking care of veterans, but anyone who needs it. We’ve become the standard of how health care and city-based organizations can improve the healthcare of everyone.”
In 2013, Unite Us worked with 35 agencies using their system. In 2019, that number grew to over 100, and they have become the health and human services platform for the entire state of North Carolina. They employ over 150 employees at seven offices across the country.
“For a culture perspective, at least in the flying world, there is a hierarchy and you know who’s in charge, and there is a flat, mission driven approach,” Brillman said. “That’s in our company. It’s like a family at the end of the day.”
“From an operations perspective, seeing how the flying operation works, even if it’s not perfect, it’s important to have and helps make sure you can execute on the mission,” he said. “We have good leaders in our organizations and I have learned skill sets that are directly translatable to running a company.”
In order to go from an idea to a thriving business, Brillman said he needed to come up with a cohesive business plan, structure the organization, then raise venture capital. He started with maybe five employees.
“Make sure the problem set is very clear,” he advised for future business leaders. “While you may not know how you are going to solve it, know your stakeholders and the manner in which you solve it can scale. And make sure you have the right people.”
In order to make sure he had the right people on his team, Brillman focused on what he was not good at.
“I knew I would be able to lead and formulate the problem and solution set, but I can’t code. I also needed to find someone who wanted to sell and knock down doors. Finding those that complimented my skill set was really important.”
Lately, Brillman has been focusing on leading the growth of his company and ensuring people have what they need to be successful.
“One person cannot do it all,” Brillman said. “You need to be energized about solving the problem and remember that solving big problems doesn’t happen overnight. You have to have serious grit.”