Undergraduates are often unsure of the path they want to take once they leave higher education, but Sam Marsh, 22, had his future mapped out before he’d even completed his second year of University. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) graduate launched Jigsaw Fitness while studying for a bachelor’s degree in Sports Science, which he completed in 2013. By that time, his innovative fitness equipment company was already thriving, with backing from UCLan’s business support programme, Northern Lights.
Sam Marsh knew two things. The first was that he didn’t want to work for somebody else, which he puts down to watching his father launch a fuel management company as a child. Aged just 12, Sam witnessed his father grow the company into a market-leader and credits this as his inspiration to one day start a business of his own.
The second thing the ambitious student knew was that he wanted to put his love of sport to good use. A keen rugby player whose playing credentials include Preston Grasshoppers and Tarleton RUFC, Sam wanted to own a business where he could draw upon his sporting passion and the skills learnt as part of his degree. The natural choice was to open a gym, so Sam developed a business plan and identified a location. Unexpectedly, however, the facility Sam had found became suddenly unavailable and the UCLan undergraduate found himself back to square one.
On the advice of his bank, Sam got in touch with UCLan’s business support programme and incubation unit, Northern Lights. The programme provides support to students, graduates and eligible North West businesses that are thinking about, or in the early stages of starting a business.
Sam said: “The team at Northern Lights instantly made things easy for me. They made me aware of the funding that was available and were an excellent support in terms of motivation. I work mainly with Neil Simpson and we’ve found a really good working groove; nobody thinks or works quite like he does.”
On the advice of his father, who is an inventor and designer, and with business support from Northern Lights, Sam drew on his previous engineering experience gained working with his father and undertaking a fitness and wellbeing placement with McLaren racing. Coupled with his sporting knowledge, Sam began devoting his time to coming up with innovative ways to get people exercising and push athletes using new training methods.
“I wanted to make exercise fun, competitive and engaging,” Sam says. “So I developed equipment which can be used by professional athletes but is also all-inclusive so people who may not like traditional gym training can use them to have fun and turn exercise into a game. Before long I had completely filled the walls of my University bedroom with ideas and designs for products.”
UCLan graduate Sam Marsh with the Jigsaw Flipper.
The result was Jigsaw Fitness, which now runs primarily out of the Northern Lights Business Centre. Northern Lights assisted with a marketing strategy and Jigsaw Fitness was able to take three products to market: The Reactor, which combines hand-eye co-ordination tasks with high intensity exercise; The HIIT timer, which provides audio and visual clues for bespoke circuit sessions; and the Jigsaw Flipper, which uses a digital score system and a tyre fitted with a sensor to develop almost all areas of conditioning.
The success hasn’t stopped there for Sam. The young entrepreneur has developed equipment used by the English Institute of Sport and is in negotiations with David Lloyd gym and the Sheffield Institute of Sport. Continued exposure of the product has also prompted leading sports brands, such as Under Armour, to approach Sam. He added “Under Armour’s company statement fits perfectly with what Jigsaw Flipper is aiming to achieve and that’s to make all athletes better, through passion design and relentless pursuit of innovation.”
“As two companies which strive for innovation in everything they do, there is fantastic synergy between both brands and we’re currently reviewing avenues that we can produce some truly fantastic experiences."
Most recently, the Jigsaw Flipper was snapped up by Rugby League’s Super League giants Wigan Warriors.
Ian Bentley, Wigan Warriors Academy strength and conditioning coach, says: "We have been really impressed with the timing/tyre flip system and it has become a key part of our gym set up. The timing system is used to organise circuit sessions, allowing us to focus on key aspects such as technique rather than having to focus on simply timing the exercises. The competitive element added by the tyre flipper encourages fast powerful actions that will transfer onto the field on match day."
Neil Simpson, business development officer at Northern Lights, said: “Sam is one of the most innovative people I have ever met and has made full use of the support we have available at Northern Lights. His success is testament to the sheer hard work and dedication that he has applied over the last year and a half, working to combine useful technology with his truly profound understanding of fitness and elite sport.”