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A collage of an Ameelio smartphone app, a letter, and a postcard

Startup Stories: Communications Tools for the Incarcerated from Ameelio

In this series, we talk to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.

Venture: Ameelio’s goal is to help family members stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones more easily and less expensively. Ameelio has three primary products: Letters, which allows users to send free letters and photos to any incarcerated person in the U.S.; Letters for Organizations, which supports criminal justice and reentry organizations by mailing resources to thousands of incarcerated contacts; and Connect, which will be the nation’s first free prison video conferencing platform.

Co-founders: Uzoma Orchingwa ’21, a joint-degree student at Yale School of Management and Yale School of Law, and Yale College graduate Gabriel Saruhashi ’19

What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?

My passion for criminal justice reform dates back to my teenage years, when several of my friends were incarcerated. At Cambridge University, I received an MPhil in criminology, examining the history of U.S. penal policy in pursuit of novel solutions.

Realizing that policy measures to de-carcerate the U.S. are many years away from implementation, I began searching for an interim solution to improve the lives of those impacted by mass incarceration. Reading reports about reducing recidivism, I encountered compelling research detailing the positive impact of increased communication on post-release outcomes. The idea for Ameelio was born there. For years, I’ve been chalking up ideas for Ameelio, but I was only lucky enough to cross paths with Gabriel this year. His technical skills and shared passion made the dream come to life.

What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?

Families are often committed to supporting their incarcerated loved ones on their journey of growth and rehabilitation, but they are barred by the profit incentives of facilities and companies that enable the communications. One in three families falls into debt due to the high cost of connecting with an incarcerated loved one.

Through free communications tools, we will create a new, trusted communication channel between incarcerated people and their support networks outside.

What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?

The support of professors, especially Jen McFadden and Teresa Chahine, and Patricia Resio, assistant director for the Yale SOM Program on Entrepreneurship. They have been great mentors and sounding boards, and we’re grateful for their guidance.

What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit since graduation?

Securing a Connect Video Conferencing pilot site: a county jail in Pennsylvania. By 2021, we’ll be the nation’s first free prison video conferencing platform. Our free provider will connect the incarcerated with families, friends, and remote prison programming—educational resources, mental health services, legal support, job interviews, and more. We’re also hoping it will drive legislative change.

Uzoma Orchingwa ’21 MBA, ’21 J.D. is a recipient of the Yale Accelerated MBA/J.D. Program Scholarship (2019-2020) and the Morris and Miriam Pozen Entrepreneur Fund  Award (2020)