Despite the stock market hitting seemingly one new high after another since the year began, Wall Street still sees value in equities. That's because historically low lending rates and a rebounding U.S. and global economy bode well for the growth stocks that have led the market higher.

But growth isn't the only category analysts believe will outperform. Small-cap stocks -- companies with market caps ranging from $300 million to as high as $2 billion -- were absolutely pummeled during the coronavirus crash and now appear set to thrive. Based on the highest Wall Street price target for each of the following small-cap stocks, implied upside ranging from 158% to as much as 329% may await.

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Vaxart: Implied upside of 158%

The first tiny tot that Wall Street appears to be really excited about is clinical-stage biotech stock Vaxart (NASDAQ:VXRT). A little over a month ago, analyst Yasmeen Rahimi at Piper Sander placed an $18 price target and an overweight rating on Vaxart. Based on its $6.99 closing price on July 12, we're talking about roughly 158% in implied upside over the next year.

For Rahimi, the selling point on Vaxart is the company's Vector-Adjuvant-Antigen Standardized Technology, or VAAST platform. This proprietary oral vaccine platform is deemed relatively low risk by Rahimi given the amount of clinical data readily available. Specifically, VAAST is designed to activate systemic and mucosal immunity in the nose, lungs, intestines, and mouth to help fight against airborne viruses, such as influenza and norovirus. 

But it's not norovirus that's put Vaxart on the map in 2021. That honor goes to VXA-CoV2-1, the company's clinical-stage coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) candidate. Vaxart's experimental treatment is unique in that it's a pill, not an injection. A pill would likely result in higher vaccination rates, and it would certainly be easier from a distribution and administration standpoint.

Back on May 3, Vaxart released data from its phase 1 study involving VXA-CoV2-1, which showed demonstrable CD8 T-cell responses. While it was able to generate relatively impressive immune responses, the company's pill didn't produce high levels of neutralizing antibodies in trial participants, which diverges from what we've seen following traditional COVID-19 injections. 

Though Vaxart may have a promising pathway to treat norovirus, it has a steep hill to climb if it's to become relevant in the COVID-19 treatment space. It's probably a bit early to pass judgment either way, but Rahimi's price target is potentially a bit too aggressive for a clinical-stage drug developer.

A person holding a lit cannabis joint by their fingertips.

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Columbia Care: Implied upside of 180%

Wall Street is also exceptionally bullish on the U.S. cannabis industry, with most multistate operators expected to fly. But one marijuana stock with particularly high upside, according to the high-water price target on Wall Street of more than $15 a share, is Columbia Care (OTC:CCHWF). If Wall Street's most aggressive price target comes to fruition, Columbia Care's shareholders could be reveling in a 180% gain over the coming 12 months.

Columbia Care finds itself perfectly set up to take advantage of a rapidly growing cannabis market in the U.S. In total, 36 states have waved the green flag on medical weed, with half of those states legalizing consumption and/or adult-use sales. With Columbia Care primarily focused on serving medical pot customers for years, it was a pretty seamless transition to also servicing a larger pool of recreational weed clients.

Although the company is generating healthy growth from its existing dispensaries -- 60% same-store sales growth in the first quarter from retail locations open in Q1 2020 -- its core strategy has involved making strategic acquisitions. Last month, the company closed a $240 million deal to acquire Green Leaf Medical, which added operational and in-development dispensaries in four states, as well as close to 400,000 square feet of cultivation and production capacity. 

Additionally, the purchase of The Green Solution in September 2020 stood out, as it allowed Columbia Care to gobble up Colorado's largest vertically integrated cannabis operator. Colorado sports the second-highest annual weed sales in the U.S., behind only California. 

The last thing to take note of is Columbia Care's focus on limited-license markets. States like Pennsylvania and Ohio cap the number of retail licenses they'll issue, as well as how many licenses a single business can hold. Meanwhile, Virginia assigns licenses by jurisdiction. The point is this: Columbia Care will be able to establish a presence in key markets without being overrun by competition.

To be clear, I believe Columbia Care has a very bright future. However, expecting a 180% climb in 12 months might be a bit much.

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Inovio Pharmaceuticals: Implied upside of 329%

But the crème de la crème of upside opportunity, at least on this list, belongs to clinical-stage biotech stock Inovio Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INO). According to Oppenheimer analyst Hartaj Singh, Inovio has a price target of $35, implying that it'll more than quadruple in value over the next year. 

The bulk of Singh's thesis rests with INO-4800, the company's experimental COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Since Inovio's vaccines are DNA-based, Singh believes they can be modified easily to tackle new variants of the disease as they arise. Further, Singh points out that INO-4800 has a more stable shelf life than some of the more popular COVID-19 vaccines. For context, Inovio reported on May 10 that its mid-stage study involving INO-4800 was well-tolerated, with T cell immune responses observed in all age groups

Inovio also has a relatively large pipeline for a company with a sub-$2 billion market cap. It has nearly a dozen different DNA-based candidates in clinical trials at the moment to treat everything from infectious diseases to cancer. Generally speaking, the more swings a drug developer gets to take, the more likely they are to hit a home run. 

On the other hand, Inovio Pharmaceuticals has struck out swinging for more than four decades. This is to say that Inovio has yet to bring an approved product to market since its inception more than 40 years ago.

What's more, INO-4800 wasn't exactly getting the red carpet treatment in the lucrative U.S. market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration placed a partial clinical hold on Inovio's phase 2/3 trial to gather more info on INO-4800 and its delivery device, known as Cellectra. Months later, the U.S. government pulled funding for a late-stage trial of INO-4800, coercing the company to look internationally to conduct its large-scale study. 

In other words, with a long history of disappointment in its wake, Inovio is the type of stock investors should avoid until it actually shows us the goods.

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.