Achieving financial success doesn't require you to have the investing acumen of Warren Buffett. And you don’t have to be a trust fund baby to start securing your financial future.

Since the stock market is our best hope for realizing our dreams, start investing today by putting away small sums of money every month. Then seek out undervalued small-cap stocks for your greatest returns. I like these because they offer opportunities for growth, while still being mostly overlooked by the big investors.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with market values less than $3 billion. We’ll also require an earnings surprise of 20% or more last quarter, and a forecast for long-term earnings growth potential of at least 20%. We'll then filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the 160,000-plus members 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

Average Analyst 5-Year EPS Est.

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP)

$1.7 billion

$16.94

33%

40%

**

Fuel-Tech (Nasdaq: FTEK)

$207 million

$8.55

NC

25%

****

Internet Capital Group

$282 million

$7.70

NC

30%

**

MetroPCS Communications (NYSE: PCS)

$2.4 billion

$6.91

50%

20%

***

Sigma Designs (Nasdaq: SIGM)

$365 million

$12.02

270%

20%

*****

Sources: Yahoo! and CAPS. NC = not calculable. ICGE earned $0.87 v. ($0.13) est., FTEK earned $0.01 v. ($0.05) est.

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. Still, we've got the CAPS community helping us here, and starting with their favorites would be a good place to begin.

An alternative opportunity
Although the initial attraction of MetroPCS Communications may have been affordable cell phone service in difficult economic times, the stickiness of unlimited talk and text for just $40 a month -- and no contract! -- is why you now see Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T offering their own prepaid wireless services. Yet even with the new competition, MetroPCS still posted higher profits on a 28% increase in revenues.

CAPS All-Star Matt8265 feels like he's panning for gold when he looks at this wireless carrier's potential:

This is a virtual gold mine.... making money, great concept, adding customers, take over target, adding customers.

Independent oil and gas exploration firm Brigham Exploration also posted surprising profits last quarter, yet CAPS members have a different outlook on this company than MetroPCS. As Brigham's stock has soared more than 1,100% over the past year, its CAPS rating has steadily fallen. All-Star pjani06 suggests it's because the financial metrics don't align with performance. While 93% of CAPS members think it will outperform the market, the stock’s two-star rating means they believe there are better places for your money.

Back to the lab
Fabless chip designer Sigma Designs looks like it's put its troubled past behind it, and it is crushing forecasts in the process. The chip sector in general is heating up, with both Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) looking to benefit from surging Asian demand and renewed corporate IT spending. But Sigma seems to have protected its main IPTV set-top box market, and the burgeoning demand helps explain why nearly 98% of the more than 1,500 CAPS members think this top-rated chip maker will outperform the broad market averages.

Head over to the Sigma Designs CAPS page and chip in with your views on how it will all pan out.

A utility player
It's not just the utilities that have been feeling the effects of reduced energy demand as a result of a lagging economy. Fuel-Tech's pollution control and system optimization technologies have been worn down by the delay in capital spending projects and legislative uncertainty. However, the recent announcement that the company has signed on a major power producer for nitrogen oxide control systems could light the fire under it that CAPS members have been waiting for.

Where TraderMikeSays is looking for technical entry points on the tech leader, All-Star IsleGirl2010 sees a possible buyout candidate in the making:

Great industry-could be very big in the future and a good buyout candidate by bigger companies like GE. P/E is a bit insane but it's a small company and worth a nibble.

Foolish final thoughts
Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think. You just have to commit to starting now, and do so regularly. Now's the time to begin!

Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Sigma Designs is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool has created a covered strangle position on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended a buy calls position on Intel.

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.