Silicon Valley veteran joins Blue Label accelerator

Maria Pienaar
Maria Pienaar

Johannesburg - Former Cell C chief information officer Maria Pienaar has joined JSE-listed Blue Label Telecom and Blue Pencil Ventures' boutique business accelerator as its founding director.  

Blue Label, which is involved in a deal to acquire a stake in Cell C, announced on Tuesday that Pienaar brings to the accelerator two decades of experience working in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley tech industry. 

Pienaar has helped launch many successful wireless and internet applications and services for enterprise and consumer markets.

At Cell C, she helped launch the first Wi-Fi Calling service in Africa, as well as innovative partnerships with the likes of Facebook. 

Prior to Cell C, Maria was at the Immersion Lab, and before that, a consultant with Finpro helping to establish the first Finnish Innovation Center FinNode USA.

READ: Blue Label’s Cell C acquisition deal ‘on track’

Pienaar will work closely with Tallies Taljaard, co-founder of Blue Label Ventures, who has been commercialising, coaching and mentoring scale-up technology businesses for 13 years. 

“Maria’s business acumen is ideal in helping high-potential tech companies accelerate their growth. Her in-depth knowledge of the telco and technology ecosystem, coupled with her Silicon Valley experience, will be invaluable in defining a new model for the acceleration of start-ups in South Africa. We currently have six companies on our shortlist at various stages of engagement,” Taljaard said.

Peinaar said that small and medium enterprises were key to unlocking inclusive growth in the South African economy and that the technology industry offers many entrepreneurial opportunities. 

“We will provide a much-needed platform for developing innovative, fast-growing tech businesses into globally competitive companies,” she said.

READ: Blue Label posts earnings jump

It will provide high potential South African tech businesses with access to funding, market opportunities, channels and skills they may need to take their commercial success to the next level.

Blue Label Telecoms late last month reached an agreement which saw it acquire 45% of the share capital of South Africa’s third largest network Cell C.

Meanwhile, a third party investor will subscribe for 15% of Cell C’s share capital at R2bn.

Cell C was recently downgraded to a ‘D’ credit rating by ratings firm Standard & Poor’s - the lowest junk status rating for a corporate company - shortly after withdrawing a bond placement, stating it could reduce its maximum net borrowings to less than R8bn through planned restructuring.

The bond placement process was expected to reduce Cell C's existing net borrowings to R8bn.

Cell C is South Africa's third largest mobile network with approximately 24m subscribers.

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