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London Tech Week

Zum: This female-led startup unicorn zips $140M to drive AI-powered innovation in school transportation, valued at $1.3B

Zum founder
Picture credits: Zum

School buses are the largest mass transit system in the US, outpacing airlines, trains, and city buses combined. However, as 90% of them run on diesel, they’ve been significant contributors to environmental pollution. By leveraging advanced technology, Zum, a California-based modern student transportation provider resolves this issue with digitisation and electrification. 

Founded by an Indian-origin female entrepreneur – Ritu Narayan, Zum has raised $140 million in Series E funding. Singapore-based GIC, which recently invested in Sweden’s H2 Green Steel led this round alongside participation from Climate Investment, and existing investors, including Sequoia and SoftBank Vision Fund 2, which invested recently in TravelPerk and Go1. This round values Zum at $1.3 billion and raises the total funding to $350 million. 

Decarbonises school bus industry

Zum will use the new capital to accelerate the expansion of its AI-driven technology platform, which decarbonises the school bus industry and bolsters the fight against climate change. 

It deploys fully EV school bus fleets and aims to turn the largest battery on wheels – batteries that are 4-6 times the size of EV car batteries into virtual power plants through its advances in Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology. 

This technology extends beyond Zum’s fleet, as it is available for use by public school districts in their own internal fleets, amplifying its positive environmental impact. The company works with thousands of schools across the nation to deliver safe, reliable, modern, and sustainable student transportation. 

AI to transform school transportation

Founded in 2014, Zum accelerates the deployment of its proprietary AI technologies, transforming school transportation into a significant tool for decarbonisation. It offers a personalised end-to-end technology platform that helps schools increase efficiencies and reduce the costs of managing student transportation fleets, which are typically the second biggest budget items for schools. 

Administrators and drivers have unprecedented visibility so they can optimise routes and deliver real-time updates to parents. Route optimisation is a critical part of the EV school bus experience as optimised routes mean less time on the road and more capacity to transfer energy back to the grid.  

The platform enables increased safety, reliability, and sustainability for the school districts it serves across San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Chicago, Nashville, and Maryland among others. 

“Zum is on a mission to revolutionise student transportation, moving beyond the status quo towards a future where innovative technologies are used to advance sustainability efforts,” remarked Zum Founder and CEO Ritu Narayan. “Securing this latest round of funding, especially in a challenging economic climate, is a resounding vote of confidence in our vision and ability to execute. This investment marks a pivotal moment in our journey, empowering us to turn school buses into powerful tools for environmental change.”

“Our investment in Zum highlights GIC’s commitment to funding the transition to net-zero in the real economy,” said Choo Yong Cheen, GIC’s Chief Investment Officer of Private Equity. “Zum is leading the industry in leveraging technology to create a more modern, sustainable, and safer experience for communities across the US. We are proud to partner with Zum’s impressive leadership team to support their work to transform student transportation, the largest source of mass transit today, into an impactful renewable energy source.”

“Zum is rapidly reinventing the student transportation industry bringing great improvements in quality, efficiency, and sustainability through software and electrification,” stated Bryan Schreier, Partner, Sequoia Capital. “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Zum as they continue their national expansion.”

“Climate Investment is excited to partner with Zum to provide safe, sustainable transportation for schools. Zum has powerful technology to digitize vehicle fleets, electrify buses, and reduce costs, aligning with Climate Investment’s mandate to decarbonise transportation,” said Cindi Bough, Climate Investment Managing Director – Ventures.

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