Young Europeans are straining against the hierarchical, hidebound business culture in their attempts to break new ground. Can American-style entrepreneurship take root on the Continent?

There's nothing more depressing in business than to wander the offices of a bankrupt company, especially one that once belonged to you. All the great victories and petty fights, all the contracts landed and deals done, all the hours devoted to developing a vision and inspiring a team, reduced to a tangle of wires, piles of paper, a few stained coffee cups, and a sour-smelling fridge.

Geoffroy de Fouchier heard all the warnings before signing on last year to help run a start-up company in Paris. Yet the venture's promise seemed so grand. With four partners, de Fouchier expected to hit it big with a French-language Web site designed to deliver any type of advice an individual might need, whether it be how to avoid taxes or unclog a pipe or succeed at love. The site proved very popular, but paying for the service proved less so. In the empty offices afterward, Geoffroy figured he had no choice but to beg his former employer, a big consulting firm, for his old job back.

Yet something happened to Geoffroy on his way back to the real world. Rather than returning to a tiny cubicle in a glass tower in La Defense corporate district of Paris, he once again finds himself jockeying a laptop in a small flat a stone's throw from the Seine. In other words, Geoffroy again succumbed to the allure of help-ing to run a startup company, al-though this time one that does not rely on the Internet.