Indian-origin mom turns school buses into $1.3 billion startup. Here’s how | Trending - Hindustan Times
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Indian-origin mom turns electric school buses into $1.3 billion startup. Here’s how

Mar 05, 2024 11:22 AM IST

The Indian-origin mom’s startup, valued at $1.3 billion, serves over 4,000 schools across California, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee and Maryland.

A 50-year-old working mother residing in California’s Bay Area had to drop everything at work to ferry her kids to school whenever their bus failed to arrive on time. This situation reminded her of her own mother’s sacrifices, a former teacher, who set her career aside in India to raise her children, prompting her to take action.

The Indian-origin mom quit her job in 2015 to start electric school buses startup to help working parents. (Representative image/Unsplash)
The Indian-origin mom quit her job in 2015 to start electric school buses startup to help working parents. (Representative image/Unsplash)

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In 2015, Ritu Narayan made the bold decision to leave her job and establish a startup, Zum, an AI-backed electric school bus service. Initially, Zum operated as a self-funded Uber, providing parents with a reliable solution. The innovative app allowed parents to book rides in advance and monitor their children’s whereabouts in real-time, reports CNBC Make It.

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“I knew [Zum’s original model] was changing the lives of working parents. Working women would write to us how they went back to the job, started to advance more — because they didn’t have to run at 4 pm to pick up their children — and got promoted,” Narayan told CNBC Make It.

In a bid to expand her business, Narayan requested local schools to promote her business to parents. The schools, however, enlisted Zum as a privatised school bus fleet with electric vehicles and tracking abilities. As a result, she revamped Zum’s services to serve a larger customer base to compete with established bus services.

In 2020, the startup got momentum after entering into a five-year $53 million contract with the Oakland Unified School District.

Narayan further told CNBC Make It, “Then, the pandemic happened and all rides to school stopped for around five [or] six months. That gave us a ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade’ type of situation. Since we weren’t in day-to-day operations, and we didn’t have to really serve existing customers, we used that time to very quickly enhance our product.”

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Today, Zum boasts of over $1.5 billion worth of contracts, serving over 4,000 private and public schools across California, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Tennessee and Maryland.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Arfa Javaid is a journalist working with the Hindustan Times' Delhi team. She covers trending topics, human interest stories, and viral content online.

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