Why does your steampunk main character invent. Many stories I’ve read treat the inventor as a genetic freak. It’s in their blood to invent, their parents were inventors.
Think about Marconi. His father was an aristocrat. Now some minor royalty did dabble in the sciences but that was considered below the dignity of many of the upper levels of society.
Or take Thomas Edison. His father was a exiled political activist, a lighthouse keeper, and a carpenter. Not an inventor.
Inventors have to eat. They would have to have other jobs, or a sponsor. There was no well fare in the late 1800s. The most complex things at the time were the railroad, the telegraph, and guns.
Railroads and telegraphs were tied together. They needed the telegraph to signal down the rail line to prevent trans from running into each other.
To make things for the rail road you needed a big foundry. Not something a single person could do. The world of telegraph was a hot bed of activity. Back stabbing was common. And Western telegraph companies were ruthless.
Weapons were another hot bed of change in the 1800s. Look at some old Remington catalogs and it looks like there were new versions of rifles and hand guns each year. There were also lots of independent inventors.
What you don’t see is a lot of inventors working on clocks.
Your main character could start out as a gun smith and then work his way into a gun maker. There is a difference. Things like fast firing guns would appeal to soldiers. The finance guys in the government hated them. They cost too much money for all the ammo the guns used. That’s one reason they used muzzle loaders in the civil war.