CNBC Disruptor 50

45. Zum

Founders: Ritu Narayan (CEO), Vivek Garg, Abhishek Garg
Launched: 2015
Headquarters: Redwood City, California
$208 million
Valuation: $937 million
Key technologies:
Cloud computing, machine learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0

Persephone Kavallines

Disruption has come for the big yellow school bus — an inefficient, often inequitable, and extremely low-tech system that costs school districts a ton of money.

Or so says Zum, creator of a technology platform that reimagines school transportation for districts, students, and their parents by optimizing routes and improving communication.

At least 4,000 U.S. schools now use Zum for their transportation services, including schools in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, and much of the San Francisco Bay area. The company says schools that use its services can reduce student commute times by as much as 20% and cut a district's transportation costs by as much as 40%. 

Zum is also on a mission to lessen the environmental impact of student transportation, both by using its platform to cut down on overall vehicle usage and by partnering with makers of electric school buses to replace gas-powered buses. It has a plan to fully eliminate diesel school buses from its fleet by 2025.

Ritu Narayan, a computer engineer and mother of two, founded Zum in 2014 on the premise that working mothers often have to pause their careers to make themselves available to shuttle their kids to and from school (not to mention to a full array of after school activities), and that a better school transportation system would benefit millions of families in myriad ways.

It's a nice story for the company website, but it glosses over Narayan's pedigree as a talented businessperson who managed billion-dollar product lines at eBay and Yahoo!, and the similarly impressive resumes that her co-founder brothers brought to the company.

The founding trio's combined experience may not be part of the marketing pitch, but it definitely helped win over some serious investors. Zum has backing from SoftBank's Vision Fund II, venerated Silicon Valley VC firm Sequoia, and the venture capital arm of BMW.

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