A serial entrepreneur has picked Greenville as the starting point for his plan to build a global sports entertainment brand using proprietary technology.
Dusko “Duka” Martinovic plans to launch the pilot location of Hitrium, a club where patrons can enter “gaming bays” and hit a golf ball, throw a football, smack a hockey puck or perform moves from 10 other sports, in late spring or early summer in a facility off Woodruff Road.
Martinovic previously created SeeSwing, a system for analyzing a golfer’s swing using sensors, high-speed video cameras and a computer. He demonstrated the system at PGA Tour events and negotiated with Donald Trump about an endorsement deal before his Vancouver-area business plunged in the Great Recession along with the golf industry.
Since then, the Serbia native and mechanical engineer has further developed the technology to apply to other sports. It can also be used for gaming, which led to the Hitrium concept.
He and his business partner, Julia Volpe, a graphic designer and former commercial real estate broker from Brooklyn, plan to establish the world’s first Hitrium Club in a building at 5 Market Point Drive that formerly housed Blue Fire Grill.
They envision nine “gaming bays,” in which players aim for a target at the end of a 35-foot lane.
Sensors and high-speed video cameras record their moves. A computer determines speed, accuracy and reaction time and uses an algorithm to calculate a score.
An overhead “leaderboard” shows who’s winning the contest.
Players can access video and data about their personal performances through a website and download the content to their smartphones.
Plans call for the club to have a “family-oriented environment,” high-speed WiFi and more than 40 high-definition televisions for watching Hitrium play and televised sporting events.
Martinovic and Volpe hope to build an international chain of Hitrium clubs, but first they’ll use the Greenville outlet to prove the concept.
They plan to build mobile units for transporting Hitrium technology to remote locations and charge companies to display brands on the units.
One of the mobile units would be a tractor-trailer capable of carrying six Hitrium gaming bays. The other would be a van pulling a trailer with a single gaming bay.
Martinovic and Volpe also intend to install fixed Hitrium systems in sports equipment stores, malls and hotels and on cruise ships.
“We see the Hitrium gaming system all over the world,” he said.
The partners also hope the Hitrium website becomes a separate media business once enough people are visiting it. And they’ll need a factory to make the gaming systems and the mobile units.
Professional cyclist George Hincapie of Greenville and pro golfer Padraig Harrington of Ireland have signed on as “ambassadors” for the brand, according to a Hitrium presentation to potential investors.
Peter White, former chief operating officer for Topgolf, a Dallas-based sports entertainment chain, is a member of the Hitrium advisory board.
White said he thinks the Hitrium system is unique and he likes the business model.
“I’m very intrigued, and as I learned more and more about it, and as I get to know Duka, I believe in what he’s been able to produce,” said White, who is now working as a consultant in Houston but said he isn’t getting paid by Hitrium.
Martinovic and Volpe plan to organize regular Hitrium contests between Clemson Tiger fans and University of South Carolina Gamecock fans.
They’ll let schools, sports leagues and teams use the mobile units for fundraisers.
They’ve tapped former NFL tight end Kyle Auffray of Spartanburg to develop the business and Greenville restaurateur Jonathan Willis to provide food service at the club.
Willis said he plans to serve “farm fresh bar food” through a concept he’s calling AgriPUB.
He previously announced plans to open a different restaurant, Elev8, on Church Street in January to serve fresh, healthy fast food using produce, cheese and meat from local farms.
Martinovic, 55, founded businesses to make plastic parts and lighting systems in Belgrade earlier in his career, according to his resume. He emigrated to Canada in 1993 as war over ethnic differences raged in the former Yugoslavia.
Martinovic met Volpe in New York City in 2008 as he explored relocating SeeSwing. She helped him find office space when she was a real estate broker and also helped plan events for the company before becoming a co-founder of Hitrium.
The partners said they considered putting the first Hitrium club in Tampa, but changed their minds after stopping in Greenville late last year to visit Volpe’s parents, who have lived in Greenville for more than two decades.
During the visit, Martinovic said he explored the Upstate and introduced himself to business leaders. He said he was offered a year’s free rent at a Spartanburg Community College location if he agreed to establish his proposed plant in Spartanburg County.
Martinovic declined the offer but said he was very impressed with it.
“I fell in love with the area and decided to stay,” he said.
— Greenville Journal staff writer Ariel Turner contributed to this report.