Entrepreneurs wanting a case study on how to build a company that ultimately wins customers and lands investors to trigger further growth might want to check out the story of Keona Health.

From humble beginnings as a startup at the LaunchBox Digital accelerator in 2011 to receiving an NC IDEA grant to winning a six-figure prize in an Allscripts challenge to $2.5 million in venture capital: That’s the quick growth story of Chapel Hill’s Keona Health, which aims to change how medical practices deal initially with patients.

The company, which has developed technology to help healthcare providers “triage” customer calls through its cloud-delivered “Online Health Advice” solution, disclosed $2.5 million in backing from a number of investors on Monday.

“Keona Health’s software tools are aimed at providing relief for what is widely recognized to be one of the biggest pain points in medicine today, patient call support” said Oakkar Oakkar, the co-founder and CEO of Keona Health. He helped launch the company while working on a masters degree in Clinical Informatics at UNC Chapel Hill.

The firm’s “secret sauce” is a means of automating medical interviews with patients. The idea is to take pressure off staff – especially nurses – and also save money.

Kenona has been boosted by National Institute of Health research that shows the online health application saves 43 percent of a nurse’s time in dealing with calls. UNC-CH conducted the research. 

Okkar, a veteran software developer, co-funded the firm along with Javed Mostafa, a professor of Information Science at UNC-CH.

The pain point for clients is dealing with 100 to 200 patient calls per day that take on average between 10 and 15 minutes, according to Keona.

Current clients include:

  • Tulane University
  • UNC Student Health
  • Chapel Hill Children’s Clinic

“I’m greatly encouraged by news of Keona securing Series A funding, reflecting years of hard work and validating Keona’s prospects for significant future growth,” said Jim Kitchen, entrepreneur in residence at Kenan-Flagler business school and founder of UNC’s Venture Lab, in a statement “ They are one of Chapel Hill’s success stories and I couldn’t be more proud of Oakkar, Stephen [Dean, chief operating officer] and their team.”

Keona launched through the short-lived LaunchBox Digital accelerator program in 2011. It was one of seven firms that received $20,000 in startup funding. LaunchBox shut down shortly thereafter.

However, Kenoa moved ahead.

Later that year, the firm received a $35,000 non-dilutive grant from NC IDEA in Durham.

In 2013, Keona made major news when it finished second in the annual Allscripts Open Application Challenge and received a $100,000 prize.

Formal launch for Keona came last November.

The company’s headquarters was at the Launch Chapel Hill shared office space complex.