Abode Heat – a mentoring partnership story

7 min read

Ali Hodges is the managing director and co-founder of innovative start-up Abode Heat, which is providing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuel boilers. Her mentor Mike Lawton is the co-founder and director of Oxford Dynamics, a company developing AI-based technology for the aerospace and space sector.
Ali Hodges, Managing Director and Co-founder of Abode Heat
Mike Lawton, Co-founder and Director of Oxford Dynamics

The reason I was so keen to be mentored by Mike is because I work with a very entrepreneurial director, who likes to take risks, and a very risk-averse technical director. Thanks to Mike’s mentoring, I’m now comfortable being the mid-point between these often, quite extreme, ends of the spectrum.

Abode Heat provides innovative heat pump and heat technology as an alternative to traditional fossil fuel boilers and direct electric heaters for domestic dwellings and light commercial buildings. I’ve long been passionate about wanting to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions.

I did have some fears before starting the programme: Mike is a real-life rocket scientist, so naturally I was nervous before to begin with! However, I quickly learnt that he is not only exceptionally clever and well-versed at building businesses but also calm, measured and incredibly understanding. I knew in an instant that I didn’t have anything to be worried about.

Since starting my mentoring relationship with Mike, I’m no longer scared of taking risks and as a result my business has grown exponentially in the last seven months – all thanks to the confidence that Mike helped me find within myself.


Being an engineer by training can often mean that business is typically quite cold and logical, focused primarily on hard-skills and results-based success and achievements. Since Ali’s background is in HR, being a part of this mentoring programme has been a fantastic opportunity for me to talk through the importance of soft skills such as empathy and understanding. I’ve really been able to learn from Ali how to show a warmer side when working in engineering, and I’m really grateful for this.

I’d describe myself as a serial technology entrepreneur who likes a tough challenge. I’m currently working on my fourth business, Oxford Dynamics, developing novel and pioneering artificial intelligence-based technology (AI) for the aerospace and space sector.

I’ve extensive experience of mentoring from the MBA programme at Oxford Business School that I’ve supported, so I very much felt comfortable being a part of this mentoring programme. Ali had previously taken part in Action Coach, which is an intensive coaching programme for start-ups delivered by Santander. When she talks about the difference between the two programmes, she’s effectively exemplifying the difference between coaching – specific action-driven support bound by time frames – and mentoring, which is a long-term relationship that focuses more on personal goals and isn’t necessarily time-bound.


Abode Heat

In fact, I’m a different person. He has given me a new-found confidence in my ability to be continually risk assessing, while also having the freedom to take leaps of faith. 

Mentoring has had a tangible benefit on the company too. Our team has doubled in size and since my business growth has been exponential because I’m no longer scared to take a risk.

My advice to anyone thinking of taking part in the mentoring programme would be to grab this opportunity with both hands and maximise the many benefits that it offers. If you don’t enter your mentoring relationship with complete openness and trust, then you won’t get much back in return. I threw myself into the process, pushed myself out of my comfort zone and the results couldn’t have been better.


Despite my mentoring experience, before meeting Ali, I was naturally worried about whether we would be able to establish a good personal connection because, without this, the whole process would have been particularly challenging. Fortunately, Ali is very easy to talk to. Her openness and honesty from the start was a delight. Many of her issues came down to a lack of confidence but she has proved that she is more than capable of reaching her goals. Ali has been an absolute joy to work with. Not only is she personable and easy to get on with, but I can also see that her company is going to go really far. They’ve got such innovative technology and a fantastic team to drive the company.

From a mentor’s point of view, I’d recommend to bin your assumptions and dive right in. You’ll find the right learning experience is certainly two way and you’ll have a chance to grow and develop as a person yourself.


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