Zūm focused on national rollout of school transport platform; foresees potential IPO in future, CEO says

Interview 1 March

Zūm focused on national rollout of school transport platform; foresees potential IPO in future, CEO says

Zūm, a Redwood City, California-based student transportation firm, is focused on expanding its technology platform across the US, said Ritu Narayan, the CEO and founder.  

The company, which does not disclose revenue, operates in more than 100 districts, comprising 4,000 schools in states such as Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, and Maryland. Its goal is to be in every state, she said.

Zūm regards an IPO as an eventual “milestone in our journey” as the company continues to improve and modernize its system and expand, the CEO added. She declined to provide potential milestones to reach before an exit.

“Zūm is a very household, family story. It is a large sustainable company. We believe we are a public market story at some point.”

Comparables would be large tech companies in logistics, education, and sustainability, she said, without naming any.  

The company, established in 2014, has raised USD 200m to date. Its Series D round in July 2021 yielded USD 130m. Softbank Vision Fund 2 led the financing, with participation from Sequoia and BMW i Ventures. Narayan said it has no additional fundraising plans in the near term.

Zūm has 150 employees. The company is not yet profitable, but based on its recurring revenue, it could be in the near future, Narayan added.

Narayan recently received the 2023 Power of Women Award from Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley. Asked why she thinks she was selected, she replied that “Zūm has become a very important company at the intersection of education, transportation and sustainability.”  

Student transportation is a USD 28bn industry, representing the second-largest budget item for school districts after salaries, according to Narayan. But it is also an antiquated industry, with little technology and no visibility for parents.

“You can track packages and pizza (delivery) but you have no idea where your children are,” she noted. “It’s expensive and not a great experience.”  

Zūm is working to change that by connecting parents and all stakeholders via a cloud-based system to find the right vehicle for the ride and optimize routes, thereby saving districts money. For example, she said the San Francisco school district saved USD 3m per year using Zūm.  

Zūm is also working to get fleets electrified. “It’s a very attractive solution for districts. There are a half million school buses on the road that will get electrified in the next few years,” she projected. So far, the Oakland (California) Unified School District is a client that is fully electrified, she added.  

On 26 October, as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean School Bus Program, 389 school districts were awarded nearly USD 1bn in funding to purchase over 2,400 clean school buses. There is also state and local funding as well as funding under the Biden Administration’s infrastructure act, she noted.  

The company has five-year contracts with districts such as San Francisco (USD 150m); Los Angeles (USD 400m) and Seattle (USD 75m). She would not provide revenue for the company.

Through the Zūm platform, children can be transported to school and after-school activities outside the district. She said children living in low-income neighborhoods often travel longer distances to school. In Oakland, the company was able to greatly reduce travel time for these students, she added. A bonus is that as school districts adopt electrified buses, they are not used during peak demand times for the power grid, so the unused power can go back to the grid to power schools or hospitals, she explained.

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