Everyone has a favorite story about an innovative company whose shares were once a bargain. Those stories usually end with a heartfelt, "If I had only known..." Morningstar equity analyst Michael Tian has a list of innovative companies selling at bargain prices right now.
His list begins with Applied Materials.
"They are the behemoth in the semiconductor tool industry," he told CNBC. "They basically have engineers in almost every chip-manufacturing facility in the world; these guys have to come up with new products every few years in order to keep themselves fresh and relevant."
He also likes Autodesk.
"These guys are basically the industry standard in AutoCAD software for architects, engineers, and industrial designers as well," he said. "This is a similar story to Microsoft, as engineers are trained to work up the software, it's very difficult for them to switch; this is a very powerful business model."
A little-known entry on Tian's list is Blackbaud.
"They are...the industry standard in creating CRM software for nonprofit organizations," he said. "It's called 'Raiser's Edge,' and it is by far the largest player in the industry... Their customers have something like a 96 percent retention rate from year to year."
Another promising innovator is Ctrip.com.
"One of the top players in the China online travel industry," he said. "This is an extremely fragmented market, and they're able to create a dominant platform and create some network effects; we think it's going to get bigger, and it's going to stay big."
Rounding out his list is Mentor.
"Mentor is a top player in the cosmetic-surgery market," he said. "They have a 50 percent share in silicon breast implants, and this is a highly-regulated industry, and these guys just keep introducing new products."
Neither Michael Tian nor his firm owns shares in, or has any business relationship with, Applied Materials, Autodesk, Blackbaud, Ctrip.com, or Mentor.