LaUNCh Graduates 3 Ventures, Brings In New Class

CHAPEL HILL – The LaUNCh business incubator here in Chapel Hill has a reason to celebrate. Seven new ventures are moving into the space off Rosemary St., meaning that three start-ups have graduated from the program. One of those flourishing ventures is Keona Healtha business featured in our 2013 summer series spotlighting the companies of LaUNCh.

UNC graduate student Oakkar Oakkar, CEO of Keona Health, says LaUNCh was a “game changer” for the company which he helped start with UNC Professor Javed Mostafa.

“One of the best things we have done for the company was being a part of LaUNCh. It took us to the next level. They [the mentors] always make themselves available. You don’t even need to actually make an appointment. They drop in all the time to check on us and help with anything we need,” Oakkar says.

Featured in the Wall Street Journal, Keona Health is a software program that seeks to simplify the way patients communicate with their doctors.

LaUNCh Program Manager Dina Mills explains that the Impulsonic, Turnsmith and Keona Health have successfully completed the program by meeting funding and growth benchmarks. The ventures reached the revenue positive stage, and between the three companies, they have raised $1,000,000 in funding.

Keona Health, an all-star of the incubator, will be growing its staff in 2014. Oakkar says the company will double in size over the next several months and expects it will triple in size by the end of the year.

The graduated start-ups are moving into LaUNCh’s newly-acquired space at University Square with permission from UNC. The businesses will be those offices for the next six to eight months and operate independently after that point.

“They need another six to eight months to solidify the customers they have, increase their revenue bases, and for some of them, they are in the process of finding venture or strategic funding now, so they are going into the multi-million range,” Mills says.

For the seven teams entering the incubator, the program offers an opportunity for intensive business plan development, combined with mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs Jim Kitchen, Chris Mumford and Laura Zevelson, as well as a vast network of community business resources.

“Working in LaUNCh is definitely working in a very high-energy environment. People have these great ideas, and they are trying to turn them into a reality,” Mill says.

Another mission of LaUNCh is to build the entrepreneurial community in Chapel Hill.

“Our other two big successes were bringing a full day of Triangle Entrepreneurship Week activities to Chapel Hill. They had never had a single event in Chapel Hill, and we actually had five during the week. Then we also had the first Triangle Start-Up Weekend in Chapel Hill, which again was something that had been happening in the Triangle for years but not in Chapel Hill.”

Fifteen start-ups in total, Mills says, are currently participating in the 22-week LaUNCh program.

The incubator opened in the spring of 2013.

UNC Grad Is Changing Doctor Accessibility

Photo Courtesy: Keona Health

CHAPEL HILL – We all try to avoid doctor visits as much as we can, but sometimes it’s urgent, and we need answers quickly.

UNC graduate Oakkar Oakkar developed an innovative software program, Keona Health, which he says will help you reach your doctor online. As part of our summer series on young entrepreneurs in Chapel Hill, Oakkar’s start-up is this week’s featured venture from the business incubator LaUNCh Chapel Hill.

“We actually help the practices to put down the phone so that they can actually focus on direct patient care. We provide the patient with an intelligent way to report the symptoms using the web and mobile. We extract the health history directly from their health record,” Oakkar says.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal featuring Keona Health, patients are phoning their doctors more than ever. Phone calls to physician practices have increased between 25 and 50 percent since 2008. Doctor’s offices and hospitals are struggling to manage the calls. 

This is where Keona Health comes in. The program offloads phone calls onto to the clinic’s website, tracking and organizing each inquiry, helping the patient report their question.

“What we have is something personalized, something very meaningful about you and your healthcare,” Oakkar says. “Every single encounter is reviewed by your own provider before they get back to you.”


Oakkar, 34, graduated from UNC in the spring with a Master’s in Clinical Informatics. Continuing his education, though, was not the only reason he came to Chapel Hill.

He was born in Burma and later moved to Hawaii. When he was 19, he moved to Honolulu to attend the University of Hawaii. Years later, he had the idea for Keona Health, which means God’s gracious gift in Hawaiian. He wanted to develop the start-up simultaneously while going back to school, so Oakkar applied to both UNC and Duke.

“Duke accepted me first, and then when I got interviewed at UNC, they were like, ‘Hey, you are an entrepreneur? If you come here, we will actually nourish your idea in developing your company. We can get you some funding from the National Institute of Health and then spin off a company from here.’”

After hearing what Carolina had to offer, he turned Duke down.

Oakkar then met with Javed Mostafa, the Director of the Carolina Health Informatics Program, who eventually played a vital role in kick-starting Keona Health. Mostafa spoke with Oakkar about Chancellor Thorp and his entrepreneurship initiatives at UNC.

“I was just so hooked. I was like, ‘Alright. Sign me up!’ And the next day, before I even started school, we founded a company.”

Chancellor Thorp put Oakkar in touch with his cousin Dr. John Thorp, Professor and Director of UNC Women’s Primary Healthcare, and Judith Cone, special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Keona Health then received $150,000 in funding from the NIH and since has received an additional $550,000 from other government grants and early-stage investors.

Current partners and customers include UNC Obstetrics and Tulane University. Oakkar says the company is also in talks with Columbia University Hospital and North Shore-LIJ.

He just partnered with Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Inc., and the Keona Health app will be featured in the Allscripts app store. Oakkar says it could be a multi-million dollar opportunity.

“We have all these top-leading hospitals in the pipeline, so we are going to be in a different stage and a different stage of the company in a few months,” Oakkar says.

Oakkar says health care is moving into the digital age, and he is riding on top of the wave.