Innovation Accounting: how to measure innovation success

Manage the development of new products and business models and align innovation with your business strategy, by applying innovation accounting to your innovation ecosystem.

What is Innovation Accounting?

Innovation Accounting is an organized system of principles, tools and KPIs established to gather, record, classify, analyze and present accurate and timely data about a company’s breakthrough and disruptive innovation efforts – working to complement the existing financial accounting system.

Dan Toma & Esther Gons

To build successful innovation ecosystems, corporates should not look exclusively to traditional accounting methods to manage innovation and measure the impact. To make informed investment decisions on corporate startups, we can use a combination of the innovation thesis, strategic goals and the need to create a balanced portfolio. Innovation Accounting can than be used to measure and manage the progress of these corporate startups from great idea to validated business model.

The term Innovation Accounting was first coined by Eric Ries in his ground breaking book The Lean Startup.

In his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries explores the topic of Innovation Accounting to measure the progress of a single startup. In The Corporate Startup, we expand the principle of Innovation Accounting to measure and manage the whole Innovation Ecosystem. 

Innovation Accounting is the process of defining and measuring the innovation within an organisation. Especially when we are still creating and testing ideas we need non-financial indicators for success. That is why every modern organisation needs innovation accounting next to traditional financial accounting.

Innovation Accounting focusses on managing the following three innovation activities:

  1. Making investment decisions on different products at different points in their innovation journey.
  2. Tracking and measuring the success of specific innovation projects.
  3. Assessing the impact that innovation is having on the business as whole.

That means that Innovation Accounting needs to be implemented at different levels of the innovation ecosystem.

Levels of Innovation Accounting

5 components of an innovation ecosystem
The 5 elements of an Innovation Ecosystem

Within our innovation accounting framework, there are three types of key performance indicators (or KPIs) each company should be tracking for innovation:

  • Reporting KPIs are connected to Innovation Practice. These focus on product teams, the ideas they are generating, the experiments they are running and the progress they are making from ideation to scale.
    Read more: 3 Reporting KPIs to get started with innovation accounting
  • Governance KPIs are connected to Innovation Management. The focus here is on helping the company make informed investment decisions based on evidence and innovation stage.
  • Global KPIs are connected to Innovation Strategy. The focus here is on helping the company examine the overall performance of their investments in innovation in the context of the larger business.

Types of Innovation Accounting Metrics

Activity versus impact innovation metrics
The two types of innovation accounting metrics

Activity metrics focus on how busy the company has been with innovation. They measure the level of innovation activity going on (e.g. number of new products launched, number of experiments run, ideas prototyped).

In contrast, impact metrics measure the tangible results that are emerging from this innovation activity. Revenue and profits are the ultimate measure of impact.

Innovation Labs have the tendency to focus on activity metrics rather than impact metrics. That is fine to show early signs of success, but in the end innovation has to have a real impact on the organisation.

Innovation Accounting in practice

Because this is all still very abstract, we’d like to give you some examples of KPIs you can use to measure innovation accounting in practice.

We created some example metrics for:

Innovation Accounting Infographic

We created a printable infographic poster of everything there is to know about innovation accounting. You can download and print it for free.

Innovation Accounting Infographic
Innovation Accounting infographic

The Innovation Accounting book provides a practical guide for measuring your company’s innovation ecosystem.

Why this book?
When a company is committed to growing through innovation – not just exploiting the existing business models – standard accounting documents offer insufficient and, often times. irrelevant data.

Who is this book for?

  • Executives looking for a new way of measuring corporate performance in a world where accounting-recognized assets are becoming commodities
  • Investors seeking better ways of looking at a company’s growth potential
  • Managers who need to valuate innovation product teams using not only financial indicators

Innovation Accounting Software

Create a transparent innovation process,
with GroundControl as your single source of truth.

Example Innovation KPIs for Creating Ideas


Activity Metrics

Impact Metrics

Reporting KPIs
  • number of ideas generated
  • number of ideas chosen
  • assumptions identified
  • hypotheses developed
  • minimum fail criteria set
Governance KPIs
  • number of ideas submitted
  • number of decisions made
  • products moved to next stage
  • average amount invested
  • alignment with thesis
  • alignment with portfolio
  • assumption-to-knowledge ratio
Global KPIs
  • number of products by innovation type (core, adjacent, transformational)
  • number of products per substage (generate, select, review)
  • not applicable

Example Innovation KPIs for Testing Ideas


Activity Metrics

Impact Metrics

Reporting KPIs
  • Experiment Velocity (Number of experiments run)
  • number of customer conversations
  • number of customer interviews
  • number of customer observations
  • number of prototypes/MVPs built
  • number of hackathons/design sprints
  • Learning Ratio (Successful experiments)
  • experiment results
  • decisions made (pivot or persevere)
  • cost-per-learning
  • time-cost-per-learning
  • validation velocity
Governance KPIs
  • number of products in pipeline
  • number of applications
  • submitted number of decisions made
  • number of products moving stages
  • average amount spent per stage
  • stage-gate criteria
  • assumption-to-knowledge ratio
  • % of products at problem-solution fit
  • % of products at product-market fit
  • % of products ready for scale
Global KPIs
  • number of products by innovation type (core, adjacent, transformational)
  • number of products per substage (problem, solution, business)
  • % of products aligned to thesis
  • number of patent filings
  • partnerships and collaborations
  • process improvement metrics
  • number of patents granted
  • new business models ready to scale
  • cost savings
  • innovation conversion
  • new market segments entered

Example Innovation Metrics for Scaling Ideas


Activity Metrics

Impact Metrics

Reporting KPIs
  • number of growth tactics tested
  • number of experiments run
  • number of customers engaged
  • number of channels tested
  • number of usability tests run
  • validation velocity
Governance KPIs
  • number of products in pipeline
  • number of reviews submitted
  • number of decisions made
  • number of products moving
  • sub-stages average amount
  • spent per sub-stage
  • stage-gate criteria
  • average growth rates
  • growth hypotheses validated return on investment (ARR, IRR, NPV) process
  • improvement metrics
Global KPIs
  • new products by type of innovation (core, adjacent, transformational)
  • % of products aligned to thesis
  • number of patent filings
  • number of products built using lean
  • partnerships and collaborations
  • innovation contribution
  • cost savings
  • innovation conversion
  • market share (new segments, shelf space, share of wallet, distribution footprint)
  • patents granted
  • customer satisfaction

An introduction to startup analytics

One of the most requested topics when mentoring startups are analytics. Startup founders know that they have to measure things and that analytics are the solution, but not a lot of people know how to actually apply it. The problem is that even after reading the books (like Lean Analytics, which I can highly recommend), it is still hard to apply to your own startup.

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