Campus & Community

Engineering Muscle Powers a Stevens Business Startup that Will Change Your Gym Routine

NovaFit Plans to Bring Ergonomic Fitness Equipment to Market This Summer

Students with the NovaFit project pose with prototype bars in the Stevens weight room.
The NovaFit team will showcase fitness prototypes and a business concept at the expo. From left, Omar Sarhan, Tomasz Kociolek, Chris Russo and Niccolò Bertini demonstrate NovaFit's prototype bars in the Stevens weight room.

There’s only one fitness center at Stevens, so whether your passion is business or engineering, you work out next to students chasing different pursuits. 

Omar Sarhan sees that as a good thing.

Sarhan, a senior studying Business & Technology at the School of Business, is a co-founder of NovaFit, a company that wants fitness enthusiasts to have safer, more ergonomic options when they work out. And while the NovaFit team that will showcase the project at this year’s Innovation Expo consists of Sarhan’s classmates in the Business & Technology program, the company owes a lot to Stevens engineers, also.

“Being surrounded by engineers — as a business major, I don’t always understand them, but it does influence how you think, whether it’s watching them on SolidWorks or just listening to them talk,” Sarhan said.

The NovaFit team, which also consists of Niccolò Bertini, Tomasz Kociolek, Chris Russo and Ezra Maize Jr., will showcase a prototype and business concept at Stevens’ April 27 Innovation Expo. The team’s prototype barbell and a series of 3D printed grips that Sarhan created with help from two Stevens alumni who graduated with bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering.

Innovating fitness

The idea for the company traces its roots to Sarhan’s freshman year, when he first sketched some concepts for better fitness equipment in a notebook. 

“We’d go to the gym every day for an hour or two, and we’d see ways the equipment could be improved,” Bertini said. “There have been so many strides made in the process of becoming fit and healthy, but so little progress on the machines used to maintain health.”

A typical round barbell, for instance, is unnatural to hold, creating inefficiencies that hinder a workout. NovaFit’s grips solve that problem by conforming more naturally to the hands, improving confidence and performance.

As the entrepreneurs see it, the health club economy is a multibillion-dollar endeavor that’s remained static for generations — flat benches, round barbells and so on. The team sees this as a chance to do what Air Jordans did to the basketball sneaker market by revolutionizing a model that few have thought seriously about — the company name is a play on “innovating fitness.”

“In our classes, our professors teach us to think about identifying problems that you can find a solution to while seeking gaps in the market, which has really helped us think about what we can do to make a better workout for someone,” Kociolek said.

Classes helped support entrepreneurial vision

The technical side of the project hasn’t distracted NovaFit from its business plan. Sarhan said his Senior Design class with Dr. CV Harquail got him thinking about how to commercialize the product for gyms, hotels, universities and other buyers, as well as for home use. After reading about lean startup techniques in Dr. Harquail’s class, the team sought permission from Roger Power, the head strength and conditioning coach at Stevens, to set up a booth and allow athletes to test and give feedback on the equipment. As a result of that session, the team abandoned its least-popular grip model.

“Our professors teach us to think about identifying problems that you can find a solution to while seeking gaps in the market, which has really helped us think about what we can do to make a better workout for someone.”

TomasZ Kociolek, class of 2017

The team also brought lessons in project management and marketing to the company. Sarhan credited Dr. Donald Lombardi’s project management classes with teaching them how to balance and manage teams and timelines. Kociolek, meanwhile, said marketing classes with Dr. Gaurav Sabnis and Dr. Adriana Madzharov gave valuable insight on how to promote the company.

“Those classes were very beneficial to the marketing of the product and the different channels we could use,” he said. “We started with social media, since it’s free, but as we get revenue, we’ll want to go in different directions, and those classes have prepared us for that.”

The NovaFit entrepreneurs hope to continue developing the company after graduation, though they have other career aspirations, also. Bertini is headed back to his native Italy, where he’ll work as an advisory consultant for EY in Milan, but he hopes to continue consulting for NovaFit. Russo, who will start a valuation consultant job with Duff & Phelps in the fall, hopes to remain involved, as does Kociolek, who is working as an intern at Thomson Reuters and expects to graduate in December.

Sarhan, meanwhile, hopes to attend medical school and move toward a future in orthopedics, “and use my business education to help restructure the overall health care model.”

That also includes NovaFit; Sarhan hopes the company's grips can be applied to other sports, from rowing and tennis to golf. He hopes to have a final product on the market this summer.

“NovaFit doesn’t stop at weights, plates, barbells, machines,” he said. “We’re going to hit every piece, and we’re going to innovate in a way that helps it better the overall health club experience.”

For more on NovaFit, visit www.novafit.com.