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Monthly Archives: July 2019

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TikTok-parent is getting into mobile search

Category : Mobile

China’s ByteDance, which owns popular video sharing app TikTok, is already working to enter the smartphone business and the music streaming space. It appears the world’s most valued startup also has ambitions about developing its own search engine. Kind of.

A company spokesperson told TechCrunch on Thursday that it has introduced a search function in ByteDance’s Toutiao news app.

“The function is in line with Toutiao’s mission of ‘information creates value.’ Users can try the function in the app and provide feedback and suggestions on the new function,” the spokesperson said.

The search function gleans information from both content on Toutiao as well as the entire world wide web, TechCrunch understands.

From the looks of it, ByteDance’s current search functionality is more alike WeChat’s in-app search function than local giant Baidu’s or Google’s offering.

On WeChat, when a person looks up a keyword, they see news articles about that topic, followed by mentions of it from their friends. This is followed by random articles about the subject. When a user clicks on any of these article or news links, WeChat serves them the page through its in-app browser, giving them no option to leave the walled-garden.

The idea is to change the way people think about — and use — a search engine altogether. And in China, where apps such as WeChat and TikTok have gained gigantic reach on mobile, it seems logical to add all new functionalities within those apps.

ByteDance’s interest in a search engine became public on Wednesday after it published a recruitment post on its WeChat account. The startup said its “search engine” is aimed at “hundreds of millions of mobile users in China.”

“We will build a universal search engine with a better user experience from 0 to 1. Only you don’t want to search, there is no [info] you can’t find, because we can search the whole network,” the company said in the post.

According to the description in the listing, ByteDance has already hired people from other search engines such as Google, Baidu, Bing and 360.

An analysis of LinkedIn listings by TechCrunch found more than 100 people from Google, Microsoft and Baidu, many of whom worked around search divisions at the previous companies, have joined ByteDance in recent quarters.

ByteDance following Tencent’s WeChat model to create its alternate search business may add more worries to Baidu, which currently holds more than 75% of the search engine market in China, according to third-party web service StatCounter Global Stat. Microsoft’s Bing is also operational in the country, though its market share remains in the low-single digits. Google currently does not offer its search feature in China — though it has attempted to change that in recent months to no luck.

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This VC’s fund manages $500 million in assets. Here’s why it’s focusing on late-stage companies and how it thinks it can help them take off. (AKAM)

Category : entrepreneur

Venture capital firms have different strategies and philosophies when it comes to their interactions with their portfolio companies.

Some VC firms take a more laid-back approach, giving founders and executive teams plenty of room to operate. Others are much more interested in playing an active role in their companies, helping direct operations and guide decision-making.

HighBar Partners is on the more active end of the continuum. Most of its team has experience working at and managing startups. A big part of its strategy is to invest in mature startups that have already proven their business models and help them reach exponential growth by working closely with their managers, Brian Peters, a managing director at HighBar, told Business Insider in a recent interview. The firm specifically seeks out founders and managing teams that are looking for the kind of advice and guidance it can offer, he said.

“We’re a hands-on investment group,” Peters said. He continued: “If the management team is one that’s not looking for help … it might not be the right investment for us.”

Read this: One of the first backers of Skype and Wix.com explains why the European startup scene is starting to close the gap with Silicon Valley

That philosophy guides the number and type of investments HighBar makes, Peters said. The firm manages about $500 million in assets. But it has only about a dozen active investments at any one time and it only makes a handful of new ones each year, he said.

“Our model is not high volume,” he said. “We’re not sitting on 10 boards each.”

At a time when tech startups have a broader choice of investors than ever before, from sovereign wealth funds to corporate VC firms like Google’s GV and Salesforce Ventures, HighBar is betting a high-touch approach will become increasingly valuable — at least with a certain type of startup.

HighBar’s partners work closely with founders

Once HighBar invests in companies, its partners sit down with management teams and go over various aspects of their businesses, Peters said. They look at how well the startups are attracting customers and the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. They scrutinize the companies product innovation processes, he said. And they look at how well the teams are scaling their businesses, and whether they’re doing so efficiently or productively.

HighBar likes to establish benchmarks for particular metrics right after it invests and monitor whether those are improving over time, Peters said.

“We’re looking to roll up our sleeves with each of these teams,” he said.

The firm largely focuses on software companies, Peters said. It’s particularly interested in ones that help customers’ process and make sense of large amounts of data.

One of its most recent investments, for example, was in Signpost, a New York startup that offers customer relationship management software for local businesses. Founded in 2010, Signpost has collected data on 70 million US consumers. Last month, HighBar led a $52 million late-stage investment in the company.

“We love large data plays,” Peters said.

The firm is focusing on the digital transformation and automation

Lately, HighBar has been concentrating on companies that are focused on three big trends — the digital transformation of companies, business process automation, and the move of corporate workflows to mobile devices.

On the digital transformation front, it was an investor in Janrain, a startup that helps companies manage online customer registration and authentication. Akamai bought Janrain in January for $124 million in cash, according to the former’s latest quarterly report.

In the mobile workflow area, it’s a backer of PatientSafe, a San Diego-based startup that’s developed an app for doctors and nurses that helps them keep track of and communicate about treatments for particular patients.

Both investments exemplify its strategy. Both were part of larger, late-stage deals that occurred after the companies had already proven themselves.

“We like to own large stakes in business with a significant capital infusion and leverage our expertise,” Peters said.

Got a tip about a startup or venture capital? Contact this reporter via email at twolverton@businessinsider.com, message him on Twitter @troywolv, or send him a secure message through Signal at 415.515.5594. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

  • Read more about startups and venture capital:
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  • Here’s the pitch deck that convinced investors to pour $6 million into a startup trying to take on Slack and Asana despite entering the market years late
  • Lots of extremely successful founders in Silicon Valley cash out early. But WeWork’s CEO pocketing $700 million is still far from normal.
  • This startup just got $17 million to take on Peloton. Here’s why its founder thinks there’s a big opportunity in the home fitness market.

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Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Category : Mobile

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic arms, food testing devices, malaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


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Aspire raises $32.5M to help SMEs secure fast finance in Southeast Asia

Category : Mobile

Aspire, a Singapore-based startup that helps SMEs secure working capital, has raised $32.5 million in a new financing round to expand its presence in several Southeast Asian markets.

The Series A round for the one-and-a-half-year-old startup was funded by MassMutual Ventures Southeast Asia. Arc Labs and existing investors Y Combinator — Aspire graduated from YC last year — Hummingbird and Picus Capital also participated in the round. Aspire has raised about $41.5 million to date.

Aspire operates a neo-banking-like platform to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) quickly and easily secure working capital of up to about $70,000. AspireAccount, the startup’s flagship product, provides merchants and startups with instant credit limit for daily business expenses, as well as a business-to-business acceptance and other tools to help them manage their cash flow.

Co-founder and CEO Andrea Baronchelli tells TechCrunch that about 1,000 business accounts are opened each month on Aspire and that the company plans to continue focusing on Southeast Asia, where he says there are about 78 million small businesses, leaving plenty of room to scale (applications can be made through Aspire’s mobile app and are reviewed using a proprietary risk assessment engine before getting final approval from a human). Aspire claims it has seen 30% month-over-month growth since it was founded in January 2018 and expects to open more than 100,000 business accounts by next year.

Baronchelli, who served as a CMO for Alibaba’s Lazada platform for four years, says Aspire launched to close the gap left by the traditional banking industry’s focus on consumer services or businesses that make more than $10 million in revenue a year. As a result, smaller businesses in Southeast Asia, including online vendors and startups, often lack access to credit lines, accounts and other financial services tailored to their needs.

Aspire currently operates in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. The startup said it will use the fresh capital to scale its footprints in those markets. Additionally, Aspire is building a scalable marketplace banking infrastructure that will use third-party financial service providers to “create a unique digital banking experience for its SME customers.”

Baronchelli adds that “the bank of the future will probably be a marketplace,” so Aspire’s goal is to provide a place where SMEs can not only open accounts and credit cards, but also pick from different services like point of sale systems. It is currently in talks with potential partners. The startup is also working on a business credit card that will be linked to each business account by as early as this year.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is slated to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google. But for many emerging startups and businesses, getting financial services from a bank and securing working capital have become major pain points.

A growing number of startups are beginning to address these SMEs’ needs. In India, for instance, NiYo Bank and Open have amassed millions of businesses through their neo-banking platforms. Both of these startups have raised tens of millions of dollars in recent months. Drip Capital, which helps businesses in developing markets secure working capital, raised $25 million last week.


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Luna Labs creates playable ads, directly from Unity

Category : Mobile

It seems obvious that the best way to advertise a game is to let people play the game itself — and we’ve covered other startups tackling this problem, such as AppOnboard and mNectar.

But Luna Labs co-founder and CEO Steven Chard said that for most developers, the creation of these ads involves outsourcing: “It might take weeks to make an ad, and the quality of the content at the end could be limited.”

The problem, Chard said, is that most games are built on the Unity engine, while the ads need to be in HTML5, which means that developers often have to build playable ads from scratch — hence the outsourcing.

“There’s this huge demand for playables, but the tech hasn’t caught up with it,” he said. “Our view — and I think why it’s really resonating with developers — we’re saying to developers: Use that same [Unity] editor to create a playable ad. You’re going to give the user a playable ad which genuinely feels like the game.”

In fact, while Luna is officially launching its service to developers this week, it’s already been working with a few partners like Kwalee and Voodoo. Luna says that in Kwalee’s case, the results were good enough that the company spent 60% more than they did on other playable ads, and the Luna playables drove more than 250,000 installs per day.

“Luna is solving a real pain point for our studio, and the initial results have been tremendous,” said Kwalee COO Jason Falcus in a statement. “Integrating the Luna service has allowed us to significantly scale our campaigns by a comfortable margin, to the best results so far.”

Jetpack Jump

Luna’s investors include Ben Holmes (formerly of Index Ventures, backer of King and Playfish) and Chris Lee (who also invested in Space Ape and Hello Games).

Chard said the startup is currently focused on providing tools to developers, rather than getting involved in the ad-buying process. More generally, he said the company has been focused on the technology rather than the business model.

“We’re an early company with a very, very complex piece of technology — it’s taken a lot of time to get where we are,” he said. “We’re not doing it for free, but the focus isn’t on short-term profitability. It is, in the longer term, on creating a scalable product which can be used by developers.”

Chard added that eventually, he’s hoping Luna can become more involved in “at the content creation level.” For example, he suggested that developers could use the technology to test out playable concepts and see what resonates, before building a full game.

You can test it out for yourself on the Luna Labs website.


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Verizon adds Washington, DC, Atlanta, Detroit and Indianapolis to list of 5G cities

Category : Mobile

In Washington, DC, consumers, businesses and government agencies can initially access Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service in areas of Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Cardozo / U Street, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Le Droit Park, Georgetown Waterfront, Judiciary Square, Shaw, Eckington, NOMA, National Mall and the Smithsonian, Gallery Place / Chinatown, Mt. Vernon Square, Downtown, Penn Quarter, Brentwood, Southwest Waterfront, Navy Yard, and nearby Crystal City, VA, as well as around landmarks such as the Ronald Reagan National Airport, United States Botanical Gardens, Hart Senate Building, National Gallery of Art, Lafayette Square, The White House, Freedom Plaza, Farragut Square, George Washington University, Capital One Arena, Union Station, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, and Georgetown Waterfront Park.

In Atlanta, 5G Ultra Wideband service will initially be concentrated in parts of the following neighborhoods: Downtown, Midtown, Tech Square, and around such landmarks as The Fox Theater, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Home Depot Backyard, Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, and parts of Renaissance Park.

In Detroit, 5G Ultra Wideband service will initially be concentrated in parts of the following areas: Dearborn, Livonia, and Troy, including areas around the Oakland-Troy Airport.

In Indianapolis, 5G Ultra Wideband service is initially available in parts of the following neighborhoods, Arsenal Heights, Bates Hendricks, Castleton, Crown Hill, Fountain Square, Grace Tuxedo Park, Hawthorne, Historic Meridian Park, Lockerbie Square, Ransom Place, Renaissance Place, St. Joseph Historic Neighborhood, Upper Canal and Woodruff Place and around such landmarks and public spaces as Garfield Park, and Indiana University School of Medicine.


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Snapchat launches ‘instant’ tool for creating vertical ads

Category : Social

Snapchat is hoping to attract new advertisers (and make advertising easier for the ones already on the platform) with the launch of a new tool called Instant Create.

Some of these potential advertisers may not be used to creating ads in the smartphone-friendly vertical format that Snapchat has popularized, so Instant Create is designed to make the process as simple as possible.

Executives at parent organization Snap discussed the tool during last week’s earnings call (in which the company reported that its daily active users increased to 203 million).

“Just this month we started testing our new Instant Create on-boarding flow, which generates ads for businesses in three simple steps from their existing assets, be it their app or their e-commerce storefront,” said CEO Evan Spiegel.

Now the product is moving from testing to availability for all advertisers using Snapchat’s self-serve Ads Manager.

Snapchat Instant Create

Those three steps that Spiegel mentioned involve identifying the objective of a campaign (website visits, app installs or app visits), entering your website address and finalizing your audience targeting.

You can upload your creative assets if you want, but that’s not required, as Instant Create will also import images from your website. And Snap notes that you won’t need to do any real design work, because there’s “a streamlined ad creation flow that leverages our most popular templates and simplified ad detail options, enabling you to publish engaging creative without additional design resources.”

The goal is to make Snapchat advertisers accessible to smaller advertisers who may not have the time or resources to try to understand new ad formats. After all, on that same earnings call, Chief Business Officer Jeremi Gorman said, “We believe the single biggest driver for our revenue in the short to medium term will be increasing the number of active advertisers using Snapchat.”

Instant Create is currently focused on Snapchat’s main ad format, Snap Ads. You can read more in the company’s blog post.


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‘What is YouTube TV?’: Everything you need to know about YouTube’s subscription streaming service

Category : entrepreneur

As the days of traditional home cable connections fade into distant memory, it’s likely that your home entertainment center is already decked out with subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and more.

But, it’s possible that YouTube’s competing live streaming and on-demand platform — YouTube TV — has flown under your radar.

What is YouTube TV?

Launched by the video hosting platform in 2017, YouTube TV is a live TV and on-demand streaming service aimed at cord cutters – people moving away from the traditional cable package towards streaming.

YouTube says the service offers users 70+ channels – including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, HGTV, and TNT – to stream local sports, news, and television.

YouTube TV offers over 70 channels for local news, sports, and entertainment.
Sarah Wells/Business Insider

Exact lineups will vary area to area, and users can get a look ahead at their local lineup by entering their zip-code on YouTube TV’s welcome page.

And if live TV isn’t really your thing, YouTube TV also offers a large catalog of on-demand shows and movies to binge.

YouTube TV offers on-demand movies and shows.
Sarah Wells/Business Insider

But, this part of the service might be best for catching up on the most recent episodes or seasons of a show, as the on-demand section doesn’t have deep collections of old seasons.

How to watch YouTube TV

The streaming service supports up to six users, has unlimited cloud DVR storage, and is compatible with tons of devices: Android and iOS for mobile; Samsung, Sharp, Vizio, Hisense smart TVs; gaming systems like the Xbox One; Chrome and Firefox web browsers; and other streaming platforms like Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV.

Just some of the possible options for streaming YouTube TV.
Sarah Wells/Business Insider

YouTube TV was slow to extend its reach across the US, starting first with select services in Chicago, Los Angeles, the New York City area, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. But, YouTube says it now supports service in 99.5% of households in the United States.

How much is YouTube TV?

The service underwent a price hike in April 2019 and is currently priced at $49.99 per month — a bit pricier than similar competitors Sling TV and Hulu Live TV — but still cheaper than a traditional cable bill, which a study in 2018 found to be an average of $107 per month in the US.

For a fee, users can also add additional channels to their lineup, including AMC Premiere ($5 per month,) CuriosityStream ($3 per month), EPIX ($6 per month), Fox Soccer Plus ($15 per month), NBA League Pass ($39.99 per month), Showtime ($7 per month), Shudder ($6 per month), Starz ($9 per month) and Sundance Now ($7 per month.)

You can add extra channels on YouTube TV.
Sarah Wells/Business Insider

What makes YouTube TV special (for an added cost)

In addition to its lineup and storage capacity, another unique feature that YouTube TV offers is the incorporation of original content from its other subscription service, YouTube Premium.

Originally called YouTube Red, YouTube Premium is an ad-free experience that gives users access to exclusive YouTube original content (including original series, movies and documentaries) created by some of YouTube’s celebrity creators.

YouTube Premium has special content from celebrity creators.
Sarah Wells/Business Insider

But there’s a catch: a YouTube TV subscription won’t get you an ad-free YouTube experience the way YouTube Premium does – for that you’ll have to pay for both services (and an extra $11.99 per month.)

Related coverage from How To Do Everything: Tech:

  • How to delete your own YouTube videos on a computer or mobile device

  • How to upload a video to YouTube and customize its settings on desktop and mobile

  • How to make the most out of the YouTube app on your Roku device

  • How to play YouTube videos in the background on your iPhone without having to keep the app open


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How to save videos and photos you’ve taken on Snapchat, and one way to save videos from others

Category : entrepreneur

Snapchat is a social media app, available for both iPhones and Android phones, that’s focused on short-term posts. There’s a time limit on how long your photos and videos last on the app once you post them. Think of it as an expiration date. It’s pretty much the main draw of the app.

But, for those who are interested, there are ways to save your Snapchat videos (and pictures) to your phone’s camera roll, and thereby extend the life of your content. Here’s what you need to know to do it.

Check out the products mentioned in this article:

iPhone Xs (From $999.99 at Best Buy)

Google Pixel 3 (From $699.99 at Best Buy)

How to save Snapchat videos or pictures to your camera roll

Here’s how to save your own videos or pictures on Snapchat to your camera roll, before you’ve posted them:

1. Open Snapchat and take your video or picture.

2. Tap the down arrow symbol, located toward the left side of the bottom of the screen — you should see a “Saved!” confirmation appear. If you’re using an iPhone, the video or picture will be automatically saved to your Camera Roll.

The down-arrow will change to a checkmark once the video or picture is saved.
Devon Delfino/Business Insider

3. If you’re using an Android, exit out of the video by tapping the “X” in the top-left corner of the screen.

4. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see your saved Snaps.

5. Tap and hold the video you want to save to your camera roll.

Export the video or picture to your camera roll to save it.
Devon Delfino/Business Insider

6. Select “Export Snap.”

7. Tap “Camera Roll” to save the video to your phone’s camera roll.

How to save a Snapchat video or picture from your own story

Once you’ve added a video or picture to your Snapchat story — which you can do while sending your video to friends — you can easily access it to save to your phone. Here’s how:

First, open Snapchat and tap your profile icon in the top-left corner of the screen.

If you’re using an iPhone:

1. Tap the circle next to “My Story,” which should have a thumbnail of whatever you last uploaded to your Story.

2. While the picture or video you want to save is on the screen, swipe up, then tap the down-arrow in the bottom-right of the screen.

3. Your video or picture will be saved to your phone.

If you’re using an Android phone:

1. Tap the “My Story” section and then swipe up to view your story videos and pictures.

Open your My Story menu and tap the Download button.
Devon Delfino/Business Insider

2. Tap the down-arrow in the bottom-left corner of the screen to download your story video or picture.

If you have more than one video or picture, you can easily toggle between them from there. Just make sure that the video or picture you want is the one that’s highlighted on that screen.

How to save Snapchat videos from other users

If you want to save someone else’s video, you can do so by doing a quick screen recording, though you should note that the other user will likely receive a screenshot notification when you do.

iPhone users can screen record directly through their device’s settings, but Android users will have to download an app, like Screen Recorder With Audio And Facecam, Screenshot, AZ Screen Recorder or EZ Screen Recorder, to make it work.

Related coverage from How To Do Everything: Tech:

  • How to change your Snapchat display name – since you can’t change your username

  • How to find and add someone on Snapchat on iPhone or Android, in 3 different ways

  • How to delete or deactivate your Snapchat account, which you can only do from a desktop browser

  • How to delete or block friends on Snapchat on an iPhone or Android


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Scientists have figured out how to better predict where and when volcanoes will erupt — and their models accurately pinpointed disasters of the past

Category : entrepreneur

Not every volcanic eruption is a Mount Vesuvius-like catastrophe, with rivers of fire and flying rock that rains down on unsuspecting Pompeiians.

Sometimes, volcanoes’ summits collapse, forming miles-wide depressions called calderas, which are peppered by eruptive vents. When rivulets of magma force their way out of these vents, those small eruptions can spew dangerous amounts of lava and gas.

But the locations and threat levels of these vents are difficult to predict — eruptions can sometimes occur miles from the caldera’s center. That leaves cities located on or near volcanic fields, like Naples, Italy, facing a constant risk of poisonous volcanic gas, ash, and explosive bursts of lava.

Now, however, a group of scientists have figured out how to accurately pinpoint where on a volcano’s surface or in a caldera’s volcanic fields these damaging vent eruptions are likely to occur.

“Calderas have fed some of the most catastrophic eruptions on Earth and are extremely hazardous,” the scientists wrote in a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. That hazard is often underestimated by local populations, they added.

Mount Kilauea in Hawaii, which erupted last year, is speckled with such vents. The eruptions forced nearly 1,500 people to flee their homes, CBS News reported.

“These vents have lava coming out of them like fountains, which then leaks across the landscape like a slug,” Eleonora Rivalta, the lead author of the study, told Business Insider.

Smoke rises from the Pu’u O’o vent on the Kilauea Volcano on October 29, 2014 on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Marco Garcia/Reuters

The scientists hope that insights from their new model could help communities like Hawaii’s better prepare for and anticipate future eruptions.

Magma’s fickle pathways

Magma, the liquid or semi-liquid rock under the Earth’s crust, makes up most of our planet’s mantle (its intermediary layer). When magma pushes its way to the surface, that causes a volcanic eruption.

Magma likes to take the path of least resistance as it surges upward. So figuring out what that path is can enable scientists to predict where it will next breach our planet’s surface. That’s what Rivalta’s team set out to do.

The easiest path, the researchers found, is for magma to move through rocks that are more “stretched out” than their nearby counterparts — less compressed, in other words. Although many geologists thought the path of least resistance would be through an existing pathway or fault, Rivalta’s team found that vents are often “single-use only,” meaning magma erupts through them once and never again.

Rivalta and her colleagues used these discoveries to make computer models of future magma paths to the surface. They compared the predictions of their model to the known eruptive behavior of vents across Italy’s Campi Fleigrei, outside of Naples. This 8-mile-wide active volcanic field — known as the “burning fields” — first erupted almost 50,000 years ago, though the most recent major eruption was in 1538.

Rivalta’s model accurately mapped Campi Flegrei’s 70 eruptions over the past 15,000 years, including the highly damaging Monte Nuovo eruption in 1538.

The Monte Nuovo cone of the Campi Flegrei volcanic field in southern Italy.
Mauro Antonio Di Vito

Predicting the next Yellowstone eruption

Between 1600 and 2017, 278,880 people around the world were killed by volcanic activity and the consequences of those eruptions, like starvation or tsunamis.

Since the 1980s, deaths related to volcanic eruptions have been rather limited, as geographer Matthew Blackett reported in The Conversation. This isn’t because scientists have gotten better at predicting eruptions — it’s a matter of chance, since recent eruptions have been far from heavily populated areas.

An aerial view of the caldera floor in Camp Flegrei.
Giuseppe Vilardo, INGV-OV GeoLab

So Rivalta hopes to leverage her group’s new research to give cities like Naples more information about impending eruptions. She also wants to apply this new model to Mount Etna in Sicily, and use it to examine the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park.

That enormous volcano last erupted more than 640,000 years ago. If it were to erupt again, the supervolcano would spew ash across thousands of miles of the US.

Read More: A deadly supervolcano lies under Yellowstone — here’s what would happen if it erupted

Following the Yellowstone volcano’s last eruption, it collapsed on itself, creating a 1,500-square-mile caldera that’s ripe for new appearances of magma.

“Yellowstone is a caldera with tons and tons of vents,” Rivalta said. “The question of where the next one might appear is very relevant to this caldera.”