Alumni Spotlight - Tony Gammell
Ireland AM's Tommy Bowe with Tony Gammell showcasing Pokebundles Ireland.
Monday, 10 June 2024

In the latest instalment of our Alumni Spotlight series, we speak to Environmental Science graduate, Tony Gammell. From Mitchelstown, Co Cork, to Kilmallock, Co Limerick, and now living in Limerick City, Tony's journey is marked by a passion for gaming and a leap of faith into entrepreneurship during lockdown.

After swapping a career at a leading data, insights, and analytics company for his own venture, Tony founded Pokebundles Ireland, a business dedicated to Pokémon cards and trading events. He shares his story of the joy of combining passion and profession and how his time at UL shaped his career path.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? 

I’m originally from Mitchelstown, Co Cork. At the age of seven, we moved to Kilmallock, Co Limerick where my dad owned a garage. During lockdown, I traded in a career at one of the world’s leading data, insights and analytics companies to open Pokebundles Ireland, where we sell Pokémon cards and organise trading card events. I’m now living in Limerick City with my wife Anna and my six-year-old son Oisin.

Tell us about your interest in Pokémon and about your business, Pokebundles Ireland.

One of the most common questions I get asked by our customers is, “Did I love Pokémon myself as a child?” and the honest answer is that Pokémon arrived in Ireland when I was in my final year of UL at the age of twenty-two! I have been a gamer since I was 5 years old, and I adored the Pokémon video game, which launched here in 1999. When I wasn’t studying, I was probably playing Pokémon Red on my original Gameboy! Like so many people currently in the hobby, I fell back in love with Pokémon during lockdown, when everyone was looking for something to do at home. I started looking through my old collections and remembering how much I loved them, and so I started to reinvest in the hobby. After failing with a clothing brand due to Brexit, we started Pokebundles Ireland in 2022 and it has been an amazing journey. We are now one of Ireland’s leading providers of Pokémon cards and accessories. We have an online store, and we travel around the country to set up pop-up shops where we can meet fans! We also run trading card events where kids can trade cards and socialise with new and old friends. If you have seen or heard someone talking about Pokémon on Ireland AM, RTÉ, Today FM, or Newstalk over the last year, it’s probably been us. We are very lucky to run a business that gives both ourselves and the next generation of Pokémon fans a lot of happiness.

Why did you choose to study Environmental Science at UL?

As a kid, I loved soccer, gaming, and science, particularly nature. When I was in secondary school, all I wanted to do was “study science at UL,” and I just applied for everything science-related at UL when it came to the CAO application. I had taken higher-level chemistry, biology, and physics for the leaving certificate, so I knew I’d enjoy any course that I studied. UL was, and still is, one of the best universities in the country, and it was important to me to be close to home, so it was the perfect choice.

What year did you graduate?

2000: a time of Y2K bugs, indestructible Nokia 3210s, and something called the internet slowly changing the world as we knew it.

What did you enjoy most about the course? 

Given my love for all aspects of the sciences, the course allowed me to touch on many fields relating to ecology, climate change, organic chemistry, and emerging environmental technologies. There was also a great mix of class and lab-based learning, and the field trips were incredibly useful.

What did you enjoy about UL? What is student life like here?

Student life at UL was fantastic. Being totally honest, I grew up in UL. I was a child when my parents dropped me at the door of my rented accommodation. I burst into tears that evening because for the first time, I was out on my own. I knew no one, and the washing machine may as well have been an alien artefact sitting in the kitchen. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I would learn just as much outside of the classroom as I would inside it. From Champions League nights at the Hurlers to chatting with friends over tea in the Stables between lectures, I came out of my shell and became more comfortable with who I was. Speaking to some of our customers who are current students at UL, it’s amazing how similar our stories are a quarter of a century later!

Are there any campus locations that hold special significance for you? 

In retrospect, EG010. I spent long nights in there studying, drinking coffee, and chatting with friends from other courses. Today, we get to sponsor some of the gaming tournaments being held in that very same room. It’s such an honour to be in that position where I can give back to the gaming society there!

Are there any professors, mentors, or broadly people in UL or your life that have played a pivotal role in your academic and personal development?

I learned a great deal from everyone at UL, but there were two that I think stick out in my mind a little more. From an academic standpoint, Dr Richard Moles gave me a deep understanding of how everything fit together as I completed my final year project under his guidance. From a personal standpoint, there was a lovely security guard who always had a smile and a kind word of encouragement when I was in the last few months of study and leaving campus at ungodly hours!

Is there anyone who has largely influenced you in your learning and career journey to date?

So there’s Spiderman…

I was sitting in the cinema on New Year's Eve in 2018 while watching Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. I was at a crossroads career-wise. My mum, who was sadly losing a battle with illness at the time, was on my mind a lot, as she sacrificed greatly to get me through four years of rent, food, and fees. There’s a scene late in the movie where Miles Morales asks how he knows if he’s ready to be the person he is meant to be… “When do I know I’m Spiderman?”and the reply hit me like a tonne of bricks…“You won’t… That’s all it is, Miles. A leap of faith” I thought about my parents and what they had sacrificed for me, and I realised that I was wasting it by not doing enough to get where I really wanted to be in life. So I leapt!

After that, I started to completely change the content that I ingested, replacing negativity with positive influences. I spent countless hours listening to two different people, namely Gary Vaynerchuk and David Goggins. Both helped me to break some barriers I had built up about what I could and could not achieve in every aspect of my life. When the opportunity presented itself to start my own business, I was able to do so with nothing holding me back.

Were you a member of any clubs and societies?

Back in 2000, admitting you played games or liking anything we now consider “pop culture” was a great way to get a ribbing, so I always found a great sense of belonging in the sci-fi and gaming societies where I could share my passions. I fluttered in and out of other societies from time to time, and in retrospect, I should have spent more time in those societies and broadened my horizons a little more!

Tell me about your own career journey so far. 

After I graduated, I took up a position where I was part of a team that delivered research and analysis to large pharmaceutical companies. I rose through the ranks, eventually moving to our intellectual property division, where I was responsible for several global teams and key projects. In 2020, there were some informal talks about a move to London to further my career, but we had just bought the house of our dreams and our son had just turned two. I didn’t take it, and I was made redundant just before COVID shut everything down. It was perfect timing, as I was able to invest my energy into starting our business. What or who inspired you to pursue the career you are currently in? My parents and my wife Anna. My mom and dad never pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to do, and it was one of the main reasons I was able to muster the courage to start Pokebundles Ireland after 20 years of rising in the corporate ranks. My wife Anna is the most supportive person in the world, and while I was spending 15–16 hours a day in the home office, she was doing pretty much everything else. Even when times were really difficult and I was close to quitting, she was right beside me, sacrificing every single day and encouraging me to keep going. I have said it a million times: We wouldn’t have a business if it weren’t for her.

How have your studies at UL contributed to your career? 

When you study at UL, you learn to think on your feet and pivot hard when the situation requires it. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was an incredibly useful skill when you are thrust into the real world, where deadlines come thick and fast and goalposts are regularly moved! That’s even more relevant now as a business owner!

What are your hopes and plans for the future? 

From a business standpoint, we want to expand Pokebundles into different markets. We just launched into mainland Europe, and we are very excited by the opportunities we see ahead. From a personal perspective, I want to spend as much time with the people I care about!

Are there any lessons or insights you wish you had known when starting your career? 

Bet on yourself. There is so little you can control in life except for your own actions and your own work.

The best life advice you’ve ever received is…

Learn to love failure. There is a generation of kids, myself included, that were taught that failure is not an option and that things need to be perfect before you show them to the world. My life is filled with brilliant projects that I was 95% happy with but never completed because I felt they weren’t perfect and I was afraid they would fail. I made so many mistakes with Pokebundles last year, and I learned more from them than all our successes combined. When you feel something is good enough, launch, watch, and learn. See what works, learn from failures, and revise as needed!