With the exception of my Uncle Steve, I was well into my 20s before I ever knew an entrepreneur personally. And Uncle Steve’s litany of troubles with the IRS–and tendency to borrow money for smokes from my dad–weren’t exactly an inspiration to go out and risk it all on my own idea.
That changed when I started to get inquiries about creating content for potential clients after my writing on LinkedIn started to get a following. At first, it was just a client or two on the side–really just date money for me and my wife. My side hustle finally released me of the guilt I had every time we spent money on P.F. Chang’s and an awful horror movie, rather than putting that money toward our daughter’s 529.
(Because, obviously, the difference between my daughter having a good job or living under a bridge is the $50 we should have put toward making a dent in a gazillion dollar tuition bill.)
Point being, the side hustle was great. But as my day job became less tolerable, my desire to try being an entrepreneur overwhelmed the memory of my Uncle Steve. I decided to start my own consulting company. My first decision was to get space in OPO Startups, an incubator in my adopted hometown of St. Charles, Missouri.
After joining OPO I was immediately immersed in the language of entrepreneurship.
One of the words in that language is “investor.”
Investors are great, and I assume it would be nice to start my business using someone’s else’s money, but I knew that investors wouldn’t be knocking down the door to invest in a consultant–no matter how many LinkedIn followers he had.
However, I got something that, in the long run, is even better than someone else’s money.
I got a community.
And from that community came clients. Today several of my clients come from the incubator I started in. Even more than that, about six months after I joined, my wife was hired to run the incubator. We are now both fully immersed in an entrepreneurial community just a few miles from our home.
Of course, being part of a community doesn’t mean you just sit back and wait until people start doing things for you. Being a part of a community requires you to engage in that community. You might have to pitch in and volunteer to clean up the common area after an event, or mentor another entrepreneur in an area they find challenging.
In other words, you need to give before you get.
They tell entrepreneurs who are just starting out to look to friends, family, and then investors for money.
I am 36 years old, and my oldest daughter is about to turn 18. That means most of my friend-making years we’re spent working with my wife to try and stop toddlers from making poop drawings on the wall. (We failed.)
Uncle Steve isn’t the moochiest family member I have. He isn’t even my moochiest uncle.
That wasn’t happening.
While I didn’t have those things, I have had a community. That sense of community was one benefit of joining OPO Startups, and I believe it’s one advantage Midwestern entrepreneurs have over our Silicon Valley counterparts.
Sure, I can’t walk down the road to Kleiner Perkins–and even if I could, they wouldn’t listen to me.
But I do have a community.
And that can be even better.
This article originally appeared on Inc.com.