Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been one of the most incredible investments in history. A single $1,000 investment in the company when it went public in 1986 would be worth $1.35 million today. Any investor with the patience to stay invested in Microsoft over the years has done amazingly well. And frankly, it's impossible to predict which companies out there will have similar success in the decades to come. 

But even if you don't find a stock like Microsoft that turns thousands into millions, it can still pay off big to find and invest in growth stocks with huge prospects. Three that caught the attention of these Motley Fool investors include Arcus Biosciences Inc. (NYSE:RCUS)Codexis, Inc. (NASDAQ:CDXS), and iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)

A single golden egg amongst many white eggs.

Image source: Getty Images.

A jockey play in a key emerging industry

Chuck Saletta (Arcus Biosciences): By the time Microsoft went public in 1986, its most famous product, the Windows operating system, was already on the marketplace. While it's likely that few would have guessed just how ubiquitous Windows would become, it was already clear by that time that graphics-based computing was the wave of the future.

Framed through that lens, recent biotech IPO Arcus Biosciences may also offer a superb opportunity to invest in an industry that has a spectacular future. Arcus Biosciences is in the business of developing immunotherapy treatments for cancer. It offers a promising technology that has seen some incredible results in other executions, and its successes have saved lives.

A nurse filling out a patient's chart as a doctor looks on.

Image source: Getty Images.

Equally importantly for investors, the company's founders have already been successful with cancer therapy. Arcus Biosciences CEO Terry Rosen and President Juan Jaen sold a previous cancer research company, Flexus Biosciences, to Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY). While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the fact that the company is led by people with proven success in the industry does offer investors hope that their experience can lead to more successes.

The company already has two compounds in clinical trials and three more approaching readiness for trials. While it's way too early to declare success, if Arcus Biosciences is able to extend the types of cancer that respond to immunotherapy, it could very well become another incredibly successful IPO.

Enzymes are becoming big business

Maxx Chatsko (Codexis): Most investors have probably never heard of Codexis, but it's worth at least a spot on most watch lists. The small-cap biotech is a leading enzyme engineering company, wielding a technology platform that uses machine learning and the iterative "design, build, test" cycle to significantly improve the performance of biologically produced enzymes for various applications.

Historically, the business has focused on creating enzymes that are added to pharmaceutical manufacturing processes to increase yield, reduce energy consumption, and avoid the creation of toxic byproducts. But biologically produced enzymes are also used in the manufacturing of food ingredients, as well as in metalworking, textile production, and healthcare diagnostics, to name a few applications. So it was only a matter of time before Codexis expanded beyond its legacy niche, which it began to do in 2017.

Gloved hands holding a well plate with samples.

Image source: Getty Images.

The business delivered year-over-year product revenue growth of 73% last year at product gross margin of 46%. That, coupled with lucrative licensing agreements granting leading pharmaceutical companies access to its enzyme engineering platform, pushed the stock up 81% in 2017. And while the stock is up 366% in the past five years, Codexis boasts a market cap of just $560 million at the moment.

Management guided for flat product revenue growth in 2018 -- no doubt a surprise considering last year's performance -- but new licensing agreements are expected to deliver total revenue growth of at least 20% compared with 2017. Nonetheless, new product launches in food ingredients and next-generation sequencing applications bode well for long-term growth in product revenue. There's also a unique catalyst for investors this year: Codexis will begin clinical trials of an engineered enzyme as a therapeutic candidate to treat phenylketonuria in the second half of 2018.

Long story short: With so many shots on goal in diverse markets, Codexis could be one of the best growth stocks you've never heard of.

A leader in the future of robotics

Jason Hall (iRobot Corporation): iRobot has been a public company for about a decade, but like Microsoft in 1986, there's a parallel between the personal computer and consumer robotics. In 1986, the PC was still largely an expensive novelty, offering little by way of utility for the average Joe or Jane. That changed rapidly in the following years, and if we fast-forward 30 years into the future, we will assuredly see a lot more robots involved in our daily lives. 

And I think that bodes incredibly well for iRobot, a potentially huge winner in the decades to come. Today, the company's success comes from its dominant position in vacuum and floor cleaning robots. Over the past five years, sales and earnings per share have doubled, even after the company sold off its military robotics unit in 2016: 

IRBT EPS Diluted (TTM) Chart

IRBT EPS Diluted (TTM) data by YCharts

Since they still make up a small fraction of the total market, cleaning robots are primed for many more years of sales growth. But looking even further into the future, iRobot's steady -- and substantial -- investments in research and development should keep it ahead of its competitors, while also helping it develop the next home robot we can't live without. And that has it primed to be a market-crushing investment in the decades to come. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.