To be fair, I have no idea what it’s like to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. My wife and I spent most of our twenties living in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was recruited by a few employers in the Bay Area. But, since life with three kids under 10 becomes that much harder when you live in a shoebox, we never moved to California.
Then, we got the opportunity to move to St. Charles, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. After a year and a half of living in the Midwest, I started my company and learned what it is like to be a Silicon Prairie entrepreneur.
Here are three of the takeaways I’ve gained so far:
Your community will root for you.
The Midwestern sense of community and overall niceness you hear about when you grow up outside of this region? It’s a real thing. Within a year of moving here, my mom passed away, and my wife and I had to travel to Utah on short notice. Our neighborhood immediately stepped in and took care of our kids for an entire week. That was the moment I knew I was a Midwesterner for life, even if I’ll never call a “soda” a “pop” and still don’t understand what Provel cheese is.
That supportiveness is something I’ve also felt in my startup. When I started my marketing consultancy, several local companies and organizations sought me out, specifically because they wanted to give someone local a chance. My wife was also hired to be the Community Manager of OPO Startups, an incubator in St. Charles, after 12 years as a stay-at-home parent. Seeing the transferrable skillset of a stay-at-home parent is rare and wouldn’t happen in a lot of other communities, and her job (and benefits) provided the financial breathing room I needed to start my company.
The good things you hear about middle America aren’t just clichés. In this region, people are rooting for you, and if you are providing a valuable service or product, they will often choose you over an “outside” competitor.
As a region, we need to stick together.
Every entrepreneur needs support from the community and people around them. That’s true in St. Louis, Wichita, Omaha, and San Francisco. However, while a growing number of people are aware of what the Silicon Prairie has to offer, you will still get an occasional blank stare when you talk to customers, clients, or potential investors from outside this region.
That happens far less even in the few years since I’ve been involved in the startup scene, but still, we need to stick together. Only through sticking together will we get the rest of the world to buy in to the idea that though we have fewer startups than the coasts (that will always be the case, just as a simple matter of population dispersion), the startups that are here aren’t inherently inferior to the ones you find anywhere else.
Including the startups in Silicon Valley.
There are more resources than you think.
No, we don’t have an equivalent to the row of VC firms you’ll find on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley.
But the St. Louis region alone has 19 business incubators, 11 accelerators, and 23 funding and investment organizations, and it has attracted more than $240 million in venture capital in 2016 and 2015. When you replicate that to varying degrees across the cities of the Silicon Prairie, you start to see truly significant resources. In addition, there are less glamorous but still essential programs (like SBA 504 loans) managed by economic development organizations across the region.
We are not Silicon Valley. But they’ve been doing this since before nearly anyone who will read this article was born.
We just got started. This is just the beginning. If you’re thinking about making the entrepreneurial leap here in flyover country, go ahead. You have a greater chance of succeeding than you think.
And even if you don’t, a community that roots for you is also a community that will pick you up and dust you off when it’s time for your next big adventure.
Dustin McKissen is a consultant based in St. Charles, Missouri. He’s a two-time LinkedIn Top Voice and a columnist for Inc. and CNBC.