Infina Connect, a Cary-based IT firm focused on cloud-based solutions in healthcare and a final 10  competitor in the Wall Street Journal startup of the year contest, names a long-time healthcare executive as its CEO in place of its founder. The change, the executives say, positions Infina for its growth to a $100 million a year venture.

Mark Hefner is the new chief executive officer.

Siu Tong, Infina’s founder and a veteran entrepreneur, remains with Infina as chairman.

Hefner has aggressive plans for growing Infina, including additional hiring and the seeking of additional investment. The company is privately held.

Infina gained international recognition in recent months, advancing in the Wall Street Journal competition. However, last week the firm failed to advance to the top five finalists, finishing sixth.

Infina also announced a major partnership last week for a new type of health insurance card that is designed to help lower costs. The firm has developed technology to bring transparency and competition to the health care industry through its proprietary software. Infina was among more than 500 startups who initially applied to participate in the WSJ competition, which has been portrayed as a reality show of sorts as the startups are assigned tasks and are judged on their performance over the months long contest.

“I believe Infina has begun to solve critically important problems in healthcare affecting both the quality and cost of care,” Hefner told WRALTechWire when asked why he accepted the CEO position. (Read much more in an exclusive Q&A.)

” As I learned more about the company I was very impressed with the people I met and the technology approach, and I became convinced that I could help them succeed in growing the business. It is exciting to me to be part of a great team that is growing fast, that offers the potential to materially improve healthcare in the United States and the personal growth that will come from leading as CEO.

Tong said he is stepping aside in order for an executive with healthcare experience to lead the firm.

“[A]s of Mark’s hiring, my continuing role is Infina’s founder and chairman,” he explained. “We are at the right point for the business to be driven by an experienced healthcare IT leader.” (More details are available in an exclusive Q&A with Tong.)

According to Tong, Hefner can help Infina capitalize on the opportunities created by the ongoing changes within the healthcare industry.

“Infina faces a unique moment in history – unprecedented healthcare industry transformation driven by the need for improvements in quality and cost of care and facing a potential infusion of millions of newly insured patients in 2014 at a time when the country can ill afford to spend more on healthcare,” he explained.

“There are enormous opportunities in front of us. We need to seize the moment and insert the best leaders into the company, starting at the top, to maximize our growth. I have experience taking company from the formative stage to low tens of millions of revenue; but Infina’s opportunity is significantly higher. Mark has grown healthcare IT organizations from tens of millions to over $100M and has the right personal character to lead our great team of employees.”

As Infina advanced in the WSJ event, Hefner actually became part of the firm’s presentation. In a recent video interview with one of the event’s advisors [Vivek Wadhwa, a former Triangle entrepreneur and now author as well as an academic involved with several universities as well as a contributor to WRALTechWire], Hefner appeared alongside Tong.

Participating in the WSJ event was beneficial for the company, a spokesperson noted.

“We are honored to have been selected to participate in the WSJ Startup of the Year series and to make it to the Top 10,” the spokesperson explained. “Infina sincerely appreciated the process, mentorship, feedback and insight, and we believe it has raised the profile of our company and helped us better prepare for market success.”