Industrial upgrading (IU), the stepwise development of manufacturing skills from simple to more complicated tasks, can be a highly effective approach for late entrants. IU relies on a sequential and paced approach to develop progressively more complicated industry-established practices. We explore the effects of IU on innovation performance. Using path analysis on a sample of 353 manufacturers, we show that firms can progress from lower rungs of manufacturing and design to higher rungs. Progression afforded through IU result in a positive association with exploitative innovations, which partially mediate the effect of IU on explorative innovations.