The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, turned an initial bankroll of $10,000 into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate. Shelby Davis began with $50,000, and he amassed a $900 million fortune. These inspiring stories give us all hope that we'll be able to achieve our own financial dreams. But what if you don't have $50,000, or $10,000, or even $5,000 to get started?

Fear not, Fool, you're not doomed to penury and misery. You don't need to be a trust-fund baby to start securing your financial future. Just follow these four simple steps:

Why small caps?
Because they offer the greatest potential for market-beating returns. Institutions tend to ignore these tiny stocks, and analysts don't cover them. By the time anyone realizes they're there, they've already grown and appreciated in price.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with:

  • Market values less than $3 billion, to qualify as a small cap (but no micro caps).
  • Earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter.
  • Long-term earnings growth potential of at least 20%.

We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the more than 140,000 professional and novice investors in our Motley Fool CAPS community. If the best and brightest CAPS players think these stocks hold potential, then we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:

Company

Market Cap

Share Price

EPS Surprise

5-Yr Growth Est.

CAPS Rating

Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG)

$2.9 billion

$91.74

25%

20%

***

Coinstar (NASDAQ:CSTR)

$1.05 billion

$33.17

35%

29%

**

Fuel-Tech (NASDAQ:FTEK)

$271.7 million

$10.89

67%

15%

****

Hercules Offshore (NASDAQ:HERO)

$478.6 million

$5.01

59%

15%

****

Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL)

$815.4 million

$32.38

121%

8%

**

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Of course, this is not a list of stocks to buy. This is a starting point for more research. We need to look more closely at these companies to see if analysts' faith in them is well-founded, but we've got the CAPS community helping us here and starting with their favorites would be a good place to begin.

Not getting a charge
A lot of the growth expectations built into solar industry were predicated on China enacting regulations by year's end to support demand. First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), for example, recently signed a "memorandum of understanding" to build a 2,000-megawatt solar power plant, but it needs a "feed-in tariff" to provide above-market prices for the electricity provided by the plant to be a viable project. Thus China's National Development and Planning Commission delaying the tariff for as long as two years calls into question the rosy predictions for growth in the industry --  definitively affecting First Solar, Trina Solar, and Suntech Power (NYSE:STP).

Hapoalim Securities analyst Gordon Johnson has frequently critiqued the assumptions the industry bases its forecasts on and recently said that Trina is one of a number of Chinese solar companies harboring underappreciated risks. It reported a 40% plunge in revenue last quarter, while receivables soared a stunning 45% year over year. At the same time, free cash flow is deteriorating, even as net income purportedly continues to grow.

All of that suggests very poor earnings quality. Operating margins are deteriorating (they fell from almost 13% last year to just over 9% in the most recent quarter) and finished goods in inventory soared more than 500% at the end of the last fiscal year, suggesting that the company may be stuffing the channel. Trina is apparently pushing product out the door and extending credit to customers who may ultimately not be able to pay for it if demand doesn't materialize as anticipated. Investors in Trina could get a nasty sunburn from this solar play.

Even after bestowing a low, two-star rating on the company, CAPS members remain rather bullish on the stock with 83% of the more than 1,000 members rating Trina marking it to outperform the market. Many seem to agree with SemiChamp who says the uptake of solar will allow this integrated supplier to grow. Let's just hope that demand eventually finds its way toward Trina's doorway.

Foolish final thoughts
Academics will tell you that individual investors have little chance of beating the stock market. They say the Warren Buffetts, Shelby Davises, and Peter Lynches are the exceptions to the rule. We at The Motley Fool don't agree. Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think.

It is possible to make a more comfortable retirement for yourself, even if you have little money to start with or are starting late in life. It is possible to turn $100 into $1 million. You just have to commit: Do it now, and do it regularly. No amount is too small. Let's get started. There's no time to lose!

Chipotle Mexican Grill, First Solar, and Suntech Power Holdings are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.